Errors come back to hurt Illini in loss to SIU



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois pitching staff struggled with its command on the mound Tuesday night, and the fielders didn’t provide them with any help.

The Illini committed six errors in their 3-2 loss to Southern Illinois at Illinois Field. A throwing error on sophomore Brandon Wikoff in the 11th allowed a Saluki runner to come around to score and seal the team’s fate.

The Illini hurlers walked five batters, hit three batters and committed three errors in the team’s first extra-inning game of the year. The mistakes on the mound and in the field came back to bite the Illini (25-17) in the end, allowing the Salukis (24-18) to salvage a season split with their in-state rival.


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Illini lose to SIU

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“We were extremely poor defensively and made a lot of routine errors,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “You won’t win tight ball games if you do that.”

Hartleb gave freshman Nick Chmielewski his third midweek start this year. In his past two midweek starts, the right-hander had given up just two runs on five hits in eight innings of work, earning wins against both Saint Louis and Western Illinois.

The Orland Park, Ill., native worked around a shaky first inning in which he hit two consecutive batters but got consecutive groundouts to retire the side. He ran into more trouble in the third and wasn’t as lucky to escape. With one out, Chmielewski walked a batter and then hit his third player of the game. The two free passes would both come around to score in the inning to give the Salukis a 2-0 lead.

Chmielewski got 10 ground ball outs in five innings of work last week against Western Illinois, but his command issues Tuesday would allow him to pitch only three innings. He hadn’t lost a game in his last 10 appearances and was taken off the hook for the loss when Illinois tied the game in the fourth inning.

“Our pitchers battled out of some tough innings but the one frustrating thing was that the two runs were a walk and a hit batter, so we gave them some free runs,” Hartleb said.

Following Chmielewski’s start, the Illini would use four more pitchers in the game. Relievers Lee Zerrusen, Wes Braun, Ben Reeser and Mike Sterk combined to pitch eight innings of relief, but the command problems continued.

Zerrusen and Braun both escaped bases loaded situations in back-to-back innings, inducing ground balls to end the inning. Despite allowing a lot of runners to reach base, the Illini pitchers only allowed four hits.

“After I made an error, I was determined to get out of the inning with no runs and fortunately the defense behind me made the play and got me out of it,” Braun said.

With its pitchers making big pitches in tough situations to escape jams, Illinois’ hitters were unable to capitalize at the plate despite out-hitting the Salukis nine to four and couldn’t bring home the tying run in the bottom of the 11th with a runner on third and one out.

“This was really frustrating because we thought the whole game we were going to pull it out, but the ball didn’t bounce our way tonight, and we just have to refocus for this weekend,” Braun said.