Illini fall to Eastern Illinois as bats go cold


Illinois’ Josh Parr tags Eastern Illinois’ Richie Derbak as he slides into second base at Illinois Field on April 14, 2009.

By Meghan Montemurro

A 35-degree wind chill and brisk 12 mph winds produced an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel at Illinois Field on Tuesday night between Illinois and No. 29 Eastern Illinois before the Panthers’ Zach Skidmore stepped into the batter’s box for his eighth inning at-bat.

Skidmore drilled Illinois relief pitcher Mike Stankiewicz’s first pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run homer to break the 1-1 tie. Skidmore went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored.

The Panthers added another run in the inning on a double by senior shortstop Jordan Kreke and an insurance run in the ninth en route to a 5-1 victory.

“We didn’t swing the bats well at all,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb. “When you only score one run in a college game, you don’t win many games.

“I think from a pitching standpoint, we were pretty good.”

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Eastern Illinois starting pitcher Brian Morrell shut down Illinois’ offense, surrendering only one earned run on two hits in five innings. The senior right-hander, who walked one and struck out one, earned a no-decision in the game.

The Illini’s Will Strack countered Morrell’s effort with a quality performance of his own. The freshman limited the Panthers to one unearned run on five hits in six innings of work.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t come out with the win,” said Strack. “I thought I did all right. I didn’t feel like I had some of my best stuff. I didn’t have any zip on my fastball, but I tried to locate it on both sides.”

Eastern Illinois (25-6) was without starting outfielder Brett Nommensen and catcher Gerik Wallsten because of injury. Nommensen, one of 15 players in the country recognized by Baseball America as a midseason All-American, leads the team in batting average (.521), doubles (13), home runs (11) and slugging percentage (1.021).

In an offense-absent game for the Orange and Blue (21-9), freshman designated hitter Willie Argo notched two of Illinois’ five hits on singles and finished the night 2-for-4.

“They’re a good team, but they’re definitely a team we could have beaten if we played as well as we can,” said Argo. “We didn’t really deserve to win.”

Strack’s start and handling of the Panthers’ lineup was for naught as Stankiewicz (0-1) surrendered three earned runs and allowed four hits in 1 2/3 innings, taking the loss.

Panthers second baseman Jordan Tokarz hit a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 5-1 in the ninth inning.

“Great job by our pitching staff, timely hitting, and those have been the things we’ve been doing all year,” said Eastern Illinois head coach Jim Schmitz.

The Illini strung back-to-back singles in the bottom of the ninth with one out; however, an infield fly by Argo and second baseman Josh Parr’s fielder’s choice groundout to the shortstop ended the game.

Dwelling on the game won’t be an option for Illinois with a game at Southern Illinois on tap Wednesday.

“It’s baseball. You play a bunch of days in a row and you just have to put it behind you and go out and find a way to win,” said Hartleb.