Illini’s early lead slips away

By Steve Contorno

Freshman pitcher Billy Barrett allowed just two runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched and left the game in line for the win, but the Illinois men’s baseball team let a 4-0 lead slip away, eventually falling to the Bradley Braves 6-4.

“We didn’t do things you need to do in close games to win,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We did not move runners offensively. We had a couple opportunities from a defensive standpoint to make the plays and cut some runs down, and we did not do that. And then pitching-wise, we’re not very good.”

In just his second start of the season, Barrett pitched five scoreless innings before getting charged with two runs in the sixth, one of which came after he had been replaced by Ben Reeser.

The Illini (11-13) bullpen went on to allow four runs, three earned, on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings. Between the sixth and seventh innings, 17 batters came to the plate.

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“We have ability. We have a chance to be good on the mound. But production and the things we do on a regular basis are not good,” Hartleb said. “Those guys need to pick it up.”

Illinois jumped out to a 1-0 lead after back-to-back infield singles followed by an RBI single from right fielder Daniel Webb, scoring third baseman Brandon Wikoff.

The Illini added three more in the fourth on a rally started by second baseman Ryan Hastings’ double.

Hastings scored on a Nick Stockwell single, and Stockwell and Mike Giller eventually scored on a throwing error by Bradley’s catcher on an attempted pick off.

Following the fourth, Bradley starter Tyler Thornton allowed just three Illini to reach base.

Wikoff, who went 3-for-5 on that day, said the Illini were overanxious at the plate following their hot start.

“(Thornton) was throwing a lot of offspeed stuff and just hitting his spots on the outside part of the plate,” Wikoff said. “We took a good plate approach our first at bats, but we kind of got away from that.”

Illinois had the top of the order at bat in the ninth inning, but the Braves’ top pitcher, Chris Wright, closed the game out, notching his second save of the season and giving Bradley (15-12) five consecutive wins over the Illini.

Despite the loss, Barrett and Hartleb were encouraged by Barrett’s pitching.

“I was hitting my spots a lot better than my last time out; I was throwing to both sides of the plate,” Barrett said.

A key double play in the first inning, a rare defensive bright spot in the three-error game, helped to settle Barrett down after he walked the first batter.

“The defense is always there to back me up,” Barrett said. “I was a little shaken up at the beginning, but as the game went on I calmed down.”

Ryan Snowden and Lars Davis extended their hitting streaks to 22 and 17 games, respectively.

Snowden’s streak is the second longest in team history and is one away from tying the record.