Illinois baseball attempts to improve morale at home

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team will host a rare mid-week doubleheader on Tuesday at Illinois Field.

The Illini will welcome the Broncos of Western Michigan to Champaign for the 11th straight year to start the team’s longest home stand of the season. The Illini will play seven games in the next eight days at Illinois Field, starting with Tuesday’s first game at 2 p.m.

Illinois hopes that the long home stint will be just what the doctor ordered after the Illini suffered back-to-back losses to end their first Big Ten series against Purdue last weekend.

“It’s good we get to get back out on the field and play again and don’t have to wait a week,” senior first baseman Mike Rohde said. “We need to get a winning feeling back, and hopefully we can do that in front of our home fans.”

After losing their last two games, the Illini fell to two games under .500 at 9-11 (2-2 Big Ten), and are looking to take the field with a new mentality after what Illini head coach Dan Hartleb described as a lack of focus in their last two games against Purdue.

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“We have to come to the ballpark with the right frame of mind every day and to this point we haven’t matured enough to the point where we’re doing that,” Hartleb said. “We have lost our last two games, but that is behind us now and we just have to learn from the mistakes we’ve made.”

Illinois will send two freshmen to the mound in the doubleheader. Right-handers Kevin Manson and Billy Barrett will make their first starts of their careers against the Broncos.

Manson will be in search of his first career win wearing the Orange and Blue. Manson has made four appearances out of the bullpen for the Illini, but has struggled to keep opposing batters off the base paths, giving up 10 hits and walking five batters in six innings.

Barrett will see his first action since taking the mound on March 22 against Dartmouth. In his last three outings, Barrett has pitched five innings and given up just two hits and two runs while striking out six batters, earning one win and one save.

“We just need to go out and set the tone early,” Rohde said. “We have to get a lead early for our pitchers because they have been doing well. We know we have talent and we know we have depth so we need to go out there and set a tone for the game.”