Illini baseball drops 2 of 3 to Georgia State in season-opening series

Illinois baseball didn’t look like it was missing pieces on offense this weekend.

Instead, it was Illinois’ pitching staff that seemed absent in Atlanta, allowing 45 hits and 28 runs as the Illini dropped to 1-2 against Georgia State in their season opening series.

Friday night, junior Will Krug’s leadoff double positioned the Illini for an early 1-0 lead. Another run in the second followed by a two-run homer by Reid Roper in the sixth would extend the Illinois lead to 4-1.

“I put in the time in with the work, our team put the time in, and we just wanted to do well and show that off this weekend,” Krug said. “We did our job and we did a good job of getting to the bullpen for the most part.”

In the bottom of the seventh, sophomore pitcher Kevin Duchene forfeited his sixth hit and first walk before being relieved by Tyler Jay after 100 pitches. An RBI groundout would narrow the gap to 4-2 to end the inning.

Senior closer Ronnie Muck replaced Jay in the eighth after another run was scored, but the Panthers would send the game into extra innings after scoring again in the ninth. After Illinois was unable to score, Georgia State put the game away in the bottom of the 10th after Muck walked the leadoff batter.

“Overall, we pitched poorly,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We got the back end of our bullpen, which should be very strong, and we were poor.”

Illinois looked as if it would go down in similar fashion Saturday night after falling into an early 5-0 hole in the first inning, but an eight-run, offensive explosion in the fourth would award the Illini a lead they would never surrender.

Georgia State would come within one run again in the sixth before being put down by Illinois, 19-13.

Again, the Illini saw production out of Krug, who led the order and batted 4-for-6 with three runs, two RBIs and three stolen bases. Sophomore Ryan Nagle chalked up three runs of his own to go along with four RBIs, finishing 4-for-5. Meanwhile, Roper homered for a second consecutive day, this time into right field for an RBI.

With the series split, Illinois went down early again Sunday afternoon, trialing 4-1 by the fifth. Five runs scored in the sixth would put the Illini back on top, but another five runs allowed by the bullpen would seal the win for the Panthers at 10-6.

Starter Drasen Johnson pitched a career-high 10 strikeouts in Sunday’s game, but sophomore reliever Nick Blackburn would be the only of four relief pitchers to throw another strikeout. Blackburn’s two walks and four earned runs would pin him with the loss.

“We didn’t throw the ball well this weekend,” Duchene said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

But while the mound struggled this weekend, Illinois’ offense surprised by turning out better numbers than last season’s opening series. Though missing five position players from last year, the Illini put up more runs (29) and RBIs (25) than their last opening weekend and only recorded one less hit (34). This was reinforced by a fewer number strikeouts (25) and walks (16).

“I thought we had a lot of quality at-bats, we had a number of guys who hit the ball hard on a consistent basis,” Hartleb said. “I just thought for a group that was unproven, they went out and compete well the first weekend.

“I was just very, very disappointed overall with the pitching.”

While this weekend may have confused the Illini’s preseason identity, the only thing that is certain is their need to become a more complete team moving forward.

J.J. can be reached at [email protected] and @Wilsonable07.