Illini crush Judson in home opener at new field

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team got to try out its new field a week earlier than expected.

The Illini (8-6) held their home opener Monday afternoon at newly resurfaced Illinois Field against Judson University in a make-up game to replace one of the four games canceled at Texas Tech. The team’s original home opener was scheduled for next Wednesday versus Saint Louis but now that will become the Illini’s second game of the home season.

Behind a strong offensive performance, the Illini made easy work of the Eagles (1-11), stringing together a season high 20 hits to beat Judson 15-5 and earn the team’s sixth victory in their last eight games since starting the season 2-4.

Every player in the Illini’s starting lineup reached base at least once, and Illinois stole four bases to help manufacture its 15 runs.

“Our hitters did a great job,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Over the entire game there were only three bad pitches that we swung at. They were patient and took good swings on pitches we could drive.”

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    Illinois opened the scoring with two runs in both the first and second innings, and the Illini broke things open in the third and fourth, plating seven runs on seven hits to grab an 11-1 lead.

    It was the bottom of the order that did the majority of the damage against the Eagles. Catcher Chris Montgomery, right fielder Craig Lutes and second baseman Joe Bonadonna – Illinois’ seven, eight and nine hitters – combined for six hits, seven RBIs and six runs scored.

    “We are solid all the way through the lineup,” Lutes said. “Even on the bench we have guys who can drive people in and swing the bat and that’s going to help us down the road.”

    Lutes led the Illini in the hit parade. The sophomore went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs scored and hit his second home run of the season and fourth of his career in the fourth inning.

    “I got good pitches to hit and took advantage of them,” Lutes said. “We waited for them to make a mistake and tried to capitalize on them.”

    Junior Mike Stankiewicz took the mound in his fifth start of the season. The right-hander ran into some early trouble in the first inning. He was bailed out by senior first baseman Ryan Hastings who threw out two runners at the plate to allow Stankiewicz to escape without a run scored.

    Stankiewicz settled down over the next four innings and would allow two runs on six hits and get solid relief pitching from freshmen Lee Zerrusen and Wes Braun to earn his first win of the season.

    “Mike has had a few games where he struggled, but he came out and did a great job,” Hartleb said. “He battled out of some jams and then Lee and Wes came in and did a solid job for an all-around good day.”

    Illini hit the road for tune-up

    Illinois will head back on the road tomorrow and take on Indiana State in the two teams’ annual tune-up for conference play.

    Junior right-hander Aaron Martin will get the start against the Sycamores. Martin has been the Illini ace of the staff so far this season, earning a team low 3.24 ERA and a 2-1 record.

    Illinois is 33-32-2 all-time against Indiana State. The Sycamores shut out the Illini last season 4-0 in Champaign to snap a three game losing streak to the Orange and Blue.