Illini beat Western Illinois; Bonadonna steals home

By Jason Grodsky


photo DI multimedia


Illini beat Western

Click to view a slideshow.

Second baseman Joe Bonadonna recreated a scene out of “The Sandlot” for Illini fans at Illinois Field Wednesday night.

Standing on third with one out and a two ball, no strike count on shortstop Brandon Wikoff, Bonadonna took off for home. As the ball arrived at the plate Bonadonna slid head first under the tag of Western Illinois’ catcher, giving the Illini a 3-1 lead.

The Big Ten’s Co-Player of the Week stole two more bases in the game and capped off his remarkable day on the basepaths by collecting a career-high five hits and scoring four runs to lead the Illini (23-14) to a 10-2 victory over the Leathernecks (10-23).

Recently Bonadonna has been making pitchers tremble when he steps into the batters box. In the last four games the Illini junior is 13-for-17 at the plate and has now hit safely in 12 of his last 14 games.

“I’m seeing the ball really well and putting it in play and the ball is finding holes,” said Bonadonna, who has raised his batting average from .327 to .391 in the last four games.

Bonadonna’s three singles and two doubles were a part of the Illini’s 17 hits on the night.

Playing in an added game to make up for Illinois’ missed series against Texas Tech earlier this season, it didn’t take long for the Illini to get on the scoreboard, plating two runs on four singles in the first inning.

After Bonadonna’s steal of home in the third inning, the Illini added another run in the fourth on three more singles and then broke things open with three runs in the fifth, two coming on right fielder Daniel Webb’s two-out double down the left field line.

“We just continued to put runs on the board throughout the entire game,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We had some opportunities for a couple of big innings but all-in-all I thought we did a great job offensively.”

Illinois’ 10 runs were more than enough for its pitching staff.

Hartleb gave freshman Nick Chmielewski his second start of the season hoping the right-hander could have a repeat performance of his only other start this season where he threw three scoreless innings against Saint Louis to get his first win of his career in a near no-hitter.

Chmielewski was again solid at home, pitching a career-high five innings, allowing two runs on five hits and getting 10 ground ball outs before giving way to the Illini bullpen.

“I was just trying to keep the ball low and let my fielders behind me do work,” Chmielewski said. “I wanted to keep it below their knees in the (strike) zone and let them give the fielders a lot of work.”

Illinois in search of first conference home win this weekend.

The Illini will host Penn State (16-21, 8-8 Big Ten) this weekend in a four-game series with an opportunity to put some separation between them and the middle of the pack in the conference standings.

After getting back on track last weekend in Minnesota, taking three of four from the Gophers, Illinois has reached the halfway point of the Big Ten season with a 9-7 record and third in the Big Ten standings behind Michigan and Purdue.

While the conference season is at its midway point, the Illini have only played one conference series at home and are looking to capture their first Big Ten win at home.

The Illini were swept by conference-leader Michigan two weekends ago at Illinois Field and the team is hoping to have a better showing this week against the Nittany Lions in front of the home fans.

“The last two games have given us some momentum,” Bonadonna said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to come out and get on top of them early and let that carry us.”