Illinois hosts Bradley for midweek rematch

Illinois got a much-needed win on the road last Wednesday against in-state rival Bradley. The 6-3 victory came after three straight losses in which the margin of defeat was at least nine runs.

Senior pitcher Nick Chmielewski held the Braves to one hit and an unearned run in six innings of work and stabilized the Illinois (15-10, 1-2 Big Ten) staff in the wake of a stretch in which it allowed 47 runs in three games.

After a home sweep of Mississippi Valley State, Chmielewski will take the hill again Tuesday to face Bradley (13-11-1, 1-2 Missouri Valley) under much lighter circumstances.

Illinois hosts Bradley as the teams play for the second and final time this season.

“We kind of know what they’re going to throw at us, how they’re going to approach us,” junior Justin Parr said. “They’ll probably do the same thing they did the last time — probably switch pitchers every one or two innings, mix in different guys just to try to keep our offense off-balance.”

Just as Chmielewski will again start for the Illini, the Braves will pitch Tory Doerr, who gave up an earned run and three hits in just two innings last Wednesday. The Braves used seven different pitchers in that game.

Unlike last week, Tuesday’s contest will be Illinois’ only midweek game this week.

“We’ll handle the pitching a little bit differently because we don’t have to worry about two (midweek) games,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “If we have trouble, you have more guys available, knowing that you don’t have a Wednesday game, so you may go in with a little bit shorter leash on when you make changes.”

“We’ve already seen Bradley once, and we won that game, so we know they’re going to want revenge here on our home field,” right fielder Davis Hendrickson said. “This weekend we got on a little bit of a roll, won three games in a row. So whenever you’re winning games like that, it’s something you want to roll with, keep the momentum going.”

That weekend roll included a diving grab by Hendrickson that turned into a double play when his ensuing throw beat a runner retreating to second base.

“It’s just one of those things that happened,” Hendrickson said. “You don’t think about it, and you just go out there and play. It was a very cool catch. It was fun to do, and it’s fun to see the crowd’s reaction every time those things happen.”

The Illini stressed defense in Monday’s practice, as they committed seven errors in the three weekend games and have 36 errors in 25 games this season.

“Errors are going to happen, and our coaches understand that that’s part of the game,” Parr said. “But at the same time, we force errors to happen — throws that shouldn’t be made or just not doing things fundamentally. On a tough play, things are going to happen, but on routine balls and bunts, we should never make an error.”

An advantage Illinois will have this week that it lacked last week is playing on its home turf.

“We won’t have to travel before we play a day game, which is always a little bit tough,” Parr said. “You get right off the bus, and you pretty much just play.”