Illini justify national ranking, sweep Zips off Illinois Field

With the Illini sporting a national ranking after a series win against No. 1 LSU, head coach Dan Hartleb was worried about a possible trap series against lowly Akron.

“We played well against a very, very good team, we got ranked, and a lot of time there’s a letdown after those situations,” Hartleb said.

The No. 21 Illini showed their coach that he had nothing to worry about as they closed out a four-game sweep on Sunday, beating the Zips, 11-2.

But Sunday’s game did not start off as a laugher.

The Zips loaded the bases in the third inning after a home run by Akron’s Ryan Frazee off of pitcher Willie Strack put the score at 2-1. Akron’s Brian Kordall then scored on a double play as the Illini registered their first two outs before a fly out by Matt Roberts ended the inning.

Each player in the starting lineup posted at least a hit as the Illini put up nine runs in the next four innings to seal the game in their first home series.

Illinois also stole four bases on 17 hits to capitalize on five errors by the Zips.

“We’re the type of team that has to play as a team, we have to move runners, hit behind runners, get fly balls and ground balls when we need to,” Hartleb said.

After being told a day before that he’d earn his first start of the season, Strack’s ability to get out of the third inning jam could be one that increases his chances of earning a full-time spot in the rotation.

“I just stepped off and tried to take a deep breath and try to think about what I wanted to do,” Strack said.

“It’s pretty much up in the air” as far as earning a possible starting spot as the rotation trims down from four to three for Big Ten play, according to Strack.

On the other side of the ball, freshman Willie Argo hit his fourth home run in four games on Saturday and had three hits and three RBIs with a double on Sunday.

The Illini, though, may not be able to count on Argo’s power for the rest of the season.

“This power has just come out of nowhere,” Argo said. “If I can just hit for average, get on base, I’ll be great.”

The story of the weekend is that the Illini kept the ball rolling in what has been a stellar start to their season.

“The thing that I’m most pleased about is how we handled success,” Hartleb said. “The guys understand that what happened in the past doesn’t matter, it’s what we’re doing in the future.”