Illinois offense explodes for 18 runs in win over Redbirds



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team put on an offensive showcase against Illinois State on Tuesday night.

The Illini exploded for 18 runs in a 18-4 win over the Redbirds at Redbird Field in Normal, Ill., tallying 23 hits and hitting back-to-back home runs, one an inside-the-park home run. Seven Illini had multiple hits, and eight Illini drove in runs in the game.

Leading the offensive attack on the night were freshmen Brandon Wikoff and Craig Lutes. Each collected three hits in the game and scored two runs, while Lutes finished with four RBIs and Wikoff ended with three to help push Illinois over the .500 mark at 15-14 (6-4 Big Ten).

“Our offense has the potential to be good every game and (Tuesday) we came out clicking on all cylinders,” Lutes said.

The Illini opened the flood gates in the second with four straight singles to start the inning and then a bases clearing triple by Lutes one out later. Lutes then scored later in the inning on a passed ball to give Illinois a 5-0 lead.

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The team continued to pour the runs in during its next at bat, scoring four more times, twice on back-to-back RBI singles by Lutes and senior right fielder Ryan Snowden.

The Illini showed off their power in the fifth inning. With two men on Wikoff blasted his first career home run as an Illini to push the Illinois lead to 12-0.

Senior catcher Lars Davis then followed Wikoff’s home run with one of his own, but this time in inside the park fashion. Davis’ inside the park home run was his Big Ten and team leading seventh home run of the year.

The onslaught continued in the sixth inning as Illinois scored four more runs all with two outs in the inning. Senior first baseman provided the big blast in the inning with a bases loaded triple and then scored the fourth run of the inning on freshman catcher Joe Mercurio’s RBI single.

Lutes capped his day off at the plate with an RBI double in the ninth inning to seal the victory for Illinois.

“We were patient and didn’t swing at a lot of bad pitches all night,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Sometimes teams have a tendency to relax a little bit with a big league and not focus as much, but we stayed focused during the entire game and just about everyone who went to the plate tonight had a hit.”

With plenty of offense to back him up, sophomore starting pitcher Aaron Martin shut the Redbirds down at the plate.

Martin pitched six strong innings and gave up only one run on seven hits to earn his second win of the season. The only runs scored by Illinois State all game came in the bottom of the sixth, seventh and ninth innings.

“Aaron rebounded well from his last start and gave us six quality innings,” Hartleb said. “He was able to get ahead of hitters and really made some progress on the mound.”

Illinois will be back at it again tomorrow night, this time at home to play the Robert Morris Colonials in a make-up game at Illinois Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.