Baseball unable to suppress rallies against Baylor, UIC at classic

By Jason Grodsky

The state of Texas was not as kind the second time around for the Illinois baseball team.

Coming off a two-win opening weekend in Edinburg, Texas, the Illini returned to the Lone Star state to play in the Quala-T Imprints Baylor Classic but could not overcome their three opponents.

Illinois fell 20-6 on Friday to host No. 22 Baylor – a game that was shortened an inning due to snow – and failed to recover the rest of the weekend, losing 8-7 to Stephen F. Austin and 7-4 to Illinois-Chicago.

The Illini (2-4) were unable to keep up with the powerful bats of Baylor in the opening game of the round-robin tournament and gave up early leads in the final two games, sealing the losing weekend.

After building an early 3-0 lead against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday, the Illini again struck first against Illinois-Chicago on Sunday with a run in the top of the second, but the Orange and Blue could not tack on insurance runs in either game and allowed their opponents to climb back in.

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“We were outplayed in every area,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We got out hit and outpitched. We have to be consistent to be a good team, and we didn’t continue to score and didn’t get follow up last weekend with a good effort.”

Illinois’ pitching was not the dominant force that surrendered just six runs on opening weekend. The staff allowed a total of 35 runs, eight of which were unearned.

The Illini hurlers struggled to prevent big innings for their opponents at the plate. In Friday’s game against Baylor, Illinois gave up 10 and seven runs in separate innings, before surrendering four run frames against Stephen F. Austin and Illinois Chicago.

“We gave up too many base runners,” Hartleb said. “It’s tough to win when you aren’t keeping guys off base and getting outs when you need to.”

At the plate Illinois performed much better than in its first weekend of play and enjoyed good balance throughout the lineup.

Five different Illini registered multi-hit games. In Saturday’s contest, junior center fielder Kyle Hudson had his first three-hit game of the season while driving in three runs.

“It was a tough weekend, but we found out a lot of things that we need to work on as a team,” Hudson said. “I felt like I could’ve done more. But the good thing is we know what we need to improve on, and now we have to get back to practice and correct those things.”

Hudson went on to finish the tournament as Illinois’ most productive hitter, collecting five hits, driving in three runs and scoring twice. The junior’s .421 batting average leads the team through its first six games with a team-high eight hits and three stolen bases.

Despite three disappointing losses, Illinois had the opportunity to showcase a lot of players, as a variety of position players received playing time during the weekend and three pitchers saw action for the first time this year.

“Any experience we can get is good,” Hudson said. “We have a lot of depth on this team, and it’s early in season so there’s lot of competition for playing time. Guys are pushing each other to do better, and next time it’ll hopefully result in wins.”