Inconsistent pitching plagues Illinois baseball in season-opening series

By Nicholas Fortin

The Illinois baseball team’s play last weekend was inconsistent to say the least.

The Illini opened their first weekend of play against Georgia State expecting to be led by a talented pitching staff and supported by a young, inexperienced offense. Instead, Illinois’ play was uneven and the team dropped two of its first three games.

“Talking the talk is a lot easier than walking the walk,” sophomore starting pitcher Kevin Duchene said. “From a pitching staff standpoint, it was very humbling. When your offense scores 29 runs and you come away with a 1-2 record, it obviously reflects something that needs to be addressed and worked on. I would say that we learned a lot about ourselves, but this isn’t something that we’re used to.”

Illinois dropped both the first and third game of the weekend series despite leading both contests in the seventh inning. The first game ended in extra innings with a blown save in the ninth that led to the Panthers’ 5-4 win. The third game was similar but ended in a 10-6 win for Georgia State. The Illini were able to bounce back in the second game of the series to pull out a 19-13 win in the second game. 

Two of the Illini’s three starters pitched well on the weekend as sophomore Kevin Duchene and junior Drasen Johnson combined to throw 12 2/3 innings and 13 strikeouts. Johnson, who had his first start of his career on Sunday, finished with 10 strikeouts, and Duchene only allowed two runs through 6 1/3 innings; however, neither performed well enough to help their team win.

Junior John Kravetz allowed five runs and didn’t get through the first inning. Freshman Cody Sedlock made his debut for Illinois and settled in while Illinois mounted a comeback, eventually exploding for eight runs in the fourth inning.

Illinois’ offense was stable throughout the series but couldn’t capitalize on a number of opportunities, stranding 34 runners on base over the weekend.

“I knew going in that there would be some things that we needed to find out,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I think my frustration is the things I thought we had to find out would be offensively and defensively, and those areas I thought we did a very good job and made some progress and did some positive things.”

 

Bullpen proves to be weak spot for Illini

The bullpen was a spot of particular concern for Illinois as the Illini relief pitchers combined to give up nine runs in the two losses.

The relief pitchers also walked 13 batters and only struck out 12 over the weekend.

“The thing that I’m most frustrated with is our pitching,” Hartleb said. “Pitching should be strong. I believe it should be strong, and it was terrible.”

 

Offense provides relief for Illini

It didn’t take long for juniors Reid Roper and Will Krug to get going offensively.

Krug and Roper combined to go 3-for-8 with two runs and two RBIs In Illinois’ first game of the season against Georgia State.

The Illini finished the weekend with 29 runs scored and 25 RBIs, both of which were higher than the team totals from a season ago. 

Roper had a particularly strong weekend, finishing with two home runs, four runs and seven RBIs in three games. 

“I thought I was pretty good overall,” Roper said. “There were a few at-bats that I was not very happy with, but I felt like I was seeing the ball pretty well. Going from here I’d like to make more consistent contact and hit the ball hard every time I’m up.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.