Illini baseball posts better offensive numbers than expected

By Nicholas Fortin

The Illinois baseball team’s offensive production in its first series of the season surprised a lot of people. Sophomore Ryan Nagle isn’t one of those people.

The Illini were thought by most to be a team that would be led by a talented and experienced pitching staff. This was not the case over the weekend as the offense scored a total of 29 runs, the most runs Illinois has scored in the first three games of a season since 2009.

“Honestly, I wasn’t too surprised,” Nagle said. “I knew coming in we were going to be just fine. We had a lot of people doubting us the whole offseason, but we worked really hard in the offseason, and then we just competed and did our job.”

The offensive outburst didn’t just stop at runs, though, as the Illini tallied more RBIs (25) than they had through three games in each of the past two seasons. Illinois also recorded 34 hits on the weekend, one short of last year’s first series and four more than its first series in 2012.

“I thought we took a lot of good swings,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Even a lot of our outs were hard-hit balls, so I was really proud with that. We made great progress throughout the weekend as far as moving runners over. We hit behind runners and did a lot of really good things offensively. We need to get better there. But again, we had a lot of guys that were either new to the program or guys that hadn’t really been in a lot of game situations, and I thought for the first time out they were solid.”

Aside from the massive number of runs the team scored, junior third baseman Reid Roper said the Illini were able to get the little things done offensively over the weekend.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of getting the leadoff guys on,” Roper said. “Getting the top of the lineup on. And then guys in the middle of the order, driving them in.”

In order to continue to have offensive success, Nagle said Illinois will continue to work on the fundamentals and make the “minor adjustments.”

“We’re working on seeing pitches, our situational hitting, getting our bunts down, stuff like that,” Nagle said. “Moving over runners and just scoring runs basically.”

Illinois’ batters also had a better eye this weekend than in previous years. The team only struck out 25 times compared with 28 times in each first series over the past two years.

Additionally, the Illini drew 16 walks on the weekend, which is one more than the 2012 team had through this point in the season.

Three games is by no means telling of how the team will fare the rest of the season, but Nagle said the selfless and winning nature this year’s team could end up being better offensively than past Illinois teams.

“I think we just have a bunch of guys who just want to get the job done,” Nagle said. “They’ll take an out here or there if it’s going to move a runner over. We may not have as many home runs as we did last year, but we just have guys who are going to put the ball in play and get their job done.”

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