Illinois baseball’s hitting drought continues in loss to SIU

Adam Davis stepped into the batter’s box during the fourth inning Wednesday night charged with the task of breaking the spell hovering over the Illinois baseball team’s offense.

With teammate Casey McMurray on base having forced a Southern Illinois error at shortstop, the catcher Davis forced an error of his own on a fly ball to left field. But despite the pair of breaks donated by the Saluki defense, the Illini were unable to scratch out a run after they fell victim to one of the more puzzling base-running blunders of the season.

As McMurray waited between first and second on Davis’ fly ball, the batter Davis came charging around the horn at first base and passed McMurray for an out. McMurray then broke for third base and was tagged out on a head-first slide for the kind of head-scratching double play that makes baseball lifers look amnesic.

“They’re just little things we’re not doing,” head coach Dan Hartleb said after the Illini fell 3-0 to the Salukis (12-20). “Those things can’t happen, they shouldn’t happen at this level. We continue to get ourselves in trouble over base running.”

The game’s top star was perhaps Saluki right-hander Andrew Bever, a senior whose eight innings of five-hit ball gave him his second consecutive scoreless outing.

“He knew the strike zone and worked his fastball,” Illinois third baseman Brandon Hohl said. “His curveball wasn’t really going. When he did throw it, he would throw a strike every once in a while and get you thinking about it and he would come back at you with the fastball … and he got us.”

Hartleb said that despite Bever’s stat line, he was more concerned with his offense’s inability to capitalize.

“You have to say (Bever) did a good job, but it’s a tough thing. I think there’s certain pitchers that go out and really shut you down. I think we’re shutting ourselves down in a lot of instances, we just need to take better at-bats,” he said.

Bever also stymied the Illini with his pickoff moves, getting Pete Cappetta off the base on a fake throw to third. The out came with one out and runners at first and third. After Thomas Lindauer popped out to second base, the inning was over and another base-running blunder had put a damper on a prime RBI situation.

“He just got caught,” Hohl said. “(Assistant coach Eric) Snider told me to stay so I wasn’t going anywhere. I was trying to deke the first baseman, see if I could get Pete to second. We work on that in practice and it shouldn’t happen, but it does and it’s going to happen and when it does it’s not very good.”

The five-hit performance marked the second lackluster game in a row for the now-sputtering Illini offense. Despite a Big Ten home-opening series win versus Iowa that saw 19 Illini runs in three games, Hartleb’s crew has now dropped consecutive midweek games with one run combined after Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to Eastern Illinois.

“Two games in a row we have not swung the bats well,” Hartleb said. “Just not very aggressive at the plate, letting a lot of good pitches go by. We just need to have a different mentality at the plate.”

Sophomore Davis Hendrickson said despite the two-game drought, the Illini (11-17) are confident in their offensive capabilities.

“It was a little frustrating because I feel like we can swing the bat better than we did today,” said Hendrickson, who finished with one of the team’s five hits. “It’s been a problem these last couple of games. We just have to really have to start (to) get the bats rattling. I’m confident we’ll get on the right track for this weekend.”