Illini give up 16 unanswered runs, fall to Redbirds

Flashes of red continuously crossed home plate throughout Illinois’ last three games, and all it could do was watch.

Since notching its first conference win Friday, the Illini baseball team has allowed 47 runs in three outings. The first two games were against Nebraska, and the third was Tuesday against the Illinois State Redbirds (16-6). Illinois (11-10, 1-2 Big Ten) fell 16-7 in its first midweek game of the season.

Freshman pitcher John Kravetz looked as though he had rebounded from the first rough outing of his Illinois career, wherein he allowed nine runs (eight earned) to Nebraska and was pulled in the second inning. The right-hander cruised through two hitless innings against the Redbirds while the Illini built a seven-run cushion. He faltered in the third inning, however, allowing two runs (one earned). After a scoreless frame from the Illinois offense, Kravetz could not make it out of the fourth inning, allowing six earned runs, including a grand slam from Illinois State second basemen Kevin Tokarski that gave the Redbirds an 8-7 lead.

“The ball just kinda found open space I guess,” Kravetz said. “I felt like the hitters on the other team made adjustments, kinda saw what I was doing and it was kinda my fault for not making another adjustment.”

The Redbirds padded their lead with three runs in the sixth inning and five runs in the seventh, leaving Illinois in a 16-7 hole from which it would not recover.

“We’ve not been that clean defensively,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve played very well defensively, and we’ve had a few games where we’ve let some things get away from us defensively.”

Illinois State benefited from two Illini errors, which led to three runs for the Redbirds.

“When you make an error in the field, you expect the pitcher to pick you up, and when the pitcher’s walked a guy, you expect the defense to pick you up,” left fielder Jordan Parr said. “Today we didn’t pick each other up as a team.”

Illinois will look to stop its three-game skid as it heads down Interstate-74 to Peoria, Ill., where it will face Bradley (11-9-1). While pitching may appear to be the biggest area of concern for the Illini, it is not solely responsible for their recent struggles.

“If you look, over the last three games, we have not been good on the mound, we have not been solid defensively and we have not swung the bats well late when we’re down,” Hartleb said. “It’s a combination of things.”

Senior Nick Chmielewski will pitch for Illinois on Wednesday. The right-hander’s three starts this season have been no-decisions. Chmielewski has a 5.62 ERA.

“We got guys that are capable, but we don’t have guys that are doing their jobs right now.” Hartleb said of his pitching staff. “We’ve just hit a little three-game rough stretch; we need to bounce back.”

The Illini will face Braves left-hander Tory Doerr, who is 0-2 on the year with an ERA of 6.43.

Despite the recent defensive shortcomings, Parr expressed confidence in the team.

“We’re not worried about anything right now,” he said. “We’re gonna keep doing the same thing — we’re gonna be all right.”