Illini baseball tops No. 12 Costal Carolina, splits weekend

Illinois baseball scored an impressive 31 runs in just four games at the Caravelle Resort Classic in Conway, S.C., last weekend.

But the Illini also gave up an unimpressive 30 runs, finishing the tournament at an even 2-2 mark.

“We led at some point in all four games,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We made progress hitting the ball, but we didn’t pitch very well out of the bullpen.”

Illinois played a double-header Friday, dropping the first game 8-6 to Lipscomb but bouncing back with an 11-10 win over No. 12 Coastal Carolina.

“If you look at our first game Friday, we gave up a few runs in the late innings,” junior first baseman Matt Dittman said. “But then Friday night we came back and knocked off a ranked team. It boosted our confidence a lot.”

The Illini jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third behind senior Aaron Johnson’s two-RBI single.

Illinois tacked on one more run in the sixth, but Lipscomb rallied in the final two innings, scoring five runs, all unearned, in the eighth and then three more in the ninth behind a double from junior third baseman Cory Hale.

In the day’s second game, Illinois again took an early lead, this time in the first inning, after big hits from Johnson and Dittman.

But Coastal Carolina answered with six runs in the bottom of the inning, highlighted by a two-run homer from catcher Jose Iglesias. The Chanticleers tacked on another run in the third, and both teams scored once in the fourth as well.

“We were getting hammered pretty good,” Hartleb said. “But our guys didn’t quit.”

Sixth inning doubles from Dittman and junior Casey McMurray made the score 8-5 heading into the seventh, when a three-run homer from McMurray tied the game.

McMurray batted 3-for-5 with five RBIs, while Dittman finished the game 4-for-5 with two RBIs.

“I was just seeing the ball really well, and got real comfortable in the box,” McMurray said. “I just got into a rhythm and swung the bat really well.”

Three Illini scores in the top of the ninth cemented the win.

“It was a big win,” McMurray said. “We were down the whole game, and it says a lot about the character of this team that we fought back.”

But the Chanticleers got their revenge with a 9-4 victory Saturday.

McMurray hit his second home run of the weekend to put the Illini up 2-0 in the fourth, and they took a 3-0 lead all the way into the sixth.

But Illinois’ pitching ran into a jam in the bottom of the inning.

Freshman starter Kevin Johnson gave up a double, a single and a walk before being relieved by junior Nick Chmielewski.

“Johnson pitched well and should’ve won the game,” Hartleb said. “He started to struggle out there in the sixth. But for a young guy, he’s been very good.”

Coastal Carolina exploded for seven runs in the inning, with the Illinois bullpen unable to stop the bleeding.

The Illini finished the tournament with a 10-3 victory over Ball State on Sunday.

Illinois led 1-0 after the fourth inning, and a solo home run from senior Craig Lutes, followed by a three-run homer from fellow senior Mike Giller, put them ahead 7-0.

Giller went 2-for-4 with four RBIs on the afternoon.

Ball State got one back in the sixth behind an RBI single from freshman third baseman Adam Claypool, and then scored twice more in the seventh.

But a two-run homer from Dittman in the bottom of the inning shut the door on a Ball State comeback.

“Going 2-2, that’s better than we’ve been doing,” Dittman said. “This weekend we definitely stepped it up at the plate. We just have to keep improving.”