Quality pitching helps Illini



By Jason Grodsky

After putting on an offensive exhibition on Tuesday night against Illinois State, the Illinois baseball team relied on solid pitching in its game Wednesday night against Robert Morris College.

The Illini pitching staff shut down the Eagles, holding them to three runs on nine hits. Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the stage was set for Illinois senior shortstop Shawn Roof to steal the game away from the Eagles.

Roof reached base after getting hit by a pitch and then stole second and third before scoring on a wild pitch to give Illinois a 4-3 win at Illinois Field.

“We weren’t very aggressive on the bases (Wednesday), but you always know Shawn is going to be aggressive on the bases,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Shawn didn’t even think twice about running and he stole second and third and it put so much pressure on them and made the pitcher worry about him to the point where he threw a wild pitch.”

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Illinois freshman starting pitcher Kevin Manson made his first start of his career and first appearance for the Illini since March 19.

Manson pitched four solid innings, giving up just two hits and one unearned run.

Manson was replaced on the mound by junior Aaron Ifft in the fifth inning.

Ifft went on to throw two innings in his second outing this year, striking out two and giving up one run before turning the ball over to sophomore Ben Reeser.

“The bright spot of the game was the fact that Kevin (Manson) and Aaron (Ifft) went out and did a good job for us,” Hartleb said. “They hadn’t been on the mound very much this year but they held Robert Morris in check all night.”

Behind the solid start by Manson, the Illini got on the board first in the third inning when sophomore third baseman Dominic Altobelli led off with a single and then scored when freshman catcher Joe Mercurio doubled down the right field line.

Robert Morris evened the score the next inning, taking advantage of two Illini errors and a double-steal.

But it didn’t take long for the Illini to get back on the board.

Illinois scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth with RBI singles by sophomore left fielder Joe Bonadonna and senior designated hitter Lars Davis to recapture the lead at 3-1.

After allowing the Eagles to tie the game once again, Roof worked his magic on the base paths to seal the Illini victory.

With the win Illinois pushed its record to 16-14 heading into its four-game Big Ten series at Iowa this weekend.

“Every game is a new game and while I didn’t think we approached this one really well we did get a victory and that’s what’s most important,” Hartleb said. “Our guys will hopefully gear it up a notch for this weekend.”

Repeat Offender