Baseball team takes two of three at Texas classic

By David Just

If there was any uncertainty about the Illinois pitching staff entering the team’s first series of the season, the Illini put those fears to rest.

The Illini gave up only six runs over three games at the Al Ogletree Classic in Edinburg, Texas, good for two wins in the three-game set.

An impressive 1-0 shutout of Lamar University wrapped up the weekend, where Aaron Martin earned the win with five shutout innings, and Ben Reeser picked up the save with four scoreless innings of relief.

“It was a good way to conclude the weekend,” Reeser said. “It was very much a team effort with good defense and pitching. The offense was slow, but everything else picked up the slack.”


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And head coach Dan Hartleb made similar observations.

“I was very pleased with our pitching,” he said. “They went out against three tough teams; they were very composed, working out of any jams they were in.

“Now we’re just looking for consistency offensively. We hit the ball hard, but we need to do a better job of situational hitting.”

Martin loaded the bases in the first by giving up two singles and hitting a batter but managed to strike out Cardinal first baseman Keith Towne to end the inning.

The only run of the game came during the bottom of the fifth, when Kyle Hudson singled to left, stole second and advanced to third on left fielder Casey McMurry’s fly out to deep left. Shortstop Brandon Wikoff hit a chopper to his Cardinal counterpart and beat the throw, allowing Hudson to score from third.

Wikoff was a bright spot on the team’s offense in its opening-day 6-4 win against Sam Houston State, as well, going 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

But the story in that game goes back to the pitching, again.

Starter Scott Shaw started the game strong, pitching four scoreless innings, but ran into trouble in the sixth. The 3-0 Illinois lead disappeared as Bearkats tied the score.

Sophomore Kevin Manson came in to stop the bleeding but allowed one more run before retiring the side. The Illini retook the lead at their next opportunity and Manson was nearly perfect the rest of the way. He struck out three and walked two en route to his third career victory.

“It’s great to get a couple of wins in the first series,” Manson said. “This gives us confidence that we can beat anyone, even teams that are supposed to be better than us.”

The only team the Illini failed to get it done against on the weekend was Texas State, which came away with a 2-1 win despite a tremendous effort from Illinois starter Mike Stankiewicz. He and reliever Nick Chmielewski combined to allow nine hits and one earned run, and struck out five.

But Hartleb saw tremendous strides in his team’s performance and is confident about what his players have to offer.

“I thought we competed well, and I think that’s important,” said Hartleb, who also praised the team’s defense, which allowed only one error in each game. “We played hard all the time, and our pitchers were fairly sharp for the first time out.”