Illinois baseball underperforms again in second weekend

Drasen+Johnson+pitches+the+ball+during+the+Illini+game+against+Southern+Illinois+University.+The+Illini+won+the+match+with+a+score+of+11-7.

Drasen Johnson pitches the ball during the Illini game against Southern Illinois University. The Illini won the match with a score of 11-7.

By Nicholas Fortin

Illinois was in the same place last week, but for an entirely different reason.

Despite finished with the same record for the second straight week, Illinois’ play was vastly different from its play last weekend. The Illini pitching staff stepped up after a subpar performance to start the year, but it was Illinois’ offense that let the team down.

“I’m not very pleased again,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I thought our pitching was better. (Sunday,) we weren’t ahead in the count a lot, but the pitching was much better. It was role reversals. Where I thought last week the hitters did a good job and pitching was terrible, this week I thought the pitching was solid and our hitting was terrible.”

Illinois (2-4) was shut out in its first and third game of the Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach tournament against George Mason and Connecticut. The Illini were able to walk away with a 5-4 win against Coastal Carolina in their second game.

“I just think we underachieved,” junior outfielder Will Krug said. “We can do better. We can do a lot better than 1-2. Defensively, I think we can fix a couple of things. We’ll work on those in practice, and then hitting sticking with our approach and keep working at it.”

Illinois started its weekend Friday night with a matchup against George Mason. The Illini held the usually high-powered Patriots offense scoreless until the fifth inning, when George Mason scored its only runs of the game on a three-run homer. 

The home run proved to be enough, as Illinois couldn’t muster any runs and was shut out 3-0.

The story was the same Sunday when Illinois was shut out again, this time by Connecticut. The Huskies got on the board in the third inning and didn’t look back, eventually beating the Illini 6-0.

The lone bright spot on the weekend for Illinois was its game against Coastal Carolina on Saturday. The Illini scored first on a double by Will Krug in the top of the second. 

Illinois scored another four runs in the fifth, thanks in part to a bases-loaded double by sophomore Ryan Nagle and a two-out hit by Casey Fletcher. The Illini’s starting pitcher junior Drasen Johnson gave the ball over to the bullpen after 6 2/3 innings and walked away with his first career win as a starter.

“Everyone just came with a high level of energy, honestly, right from the beginning of the game,” Krug said.  “We just competed and played hard, and I think that’s one thing that we can do every single day regardless of how people feel and whatnot. I think that was the main thing, just a high level of energy and wanting to compete.”

The Illini pitching staff was able to rebound from a poor weekend to open the season and played relatively well on the weekend. Johnson said the pitching staff is getting better but still has things to work on.

“We took some steps in the right direction this weekend as far as keeping the ball down and getting key outs, but we still have a lot of room for improvement,” Johnson said. “We’ll keep focusing on keeping the ball down and making pitches to get hitters out this week in practice.”

Despite the re-emergence of the pitching staff, it was Illinois offense that cost them two of the three games.

The Illini offense struggled throughout the tournament and only managed to score five runs total over three games. The struggles started at the plate, as the Illini struck out 27 and tallied just 20 hits in the three weekend games. 

“It’s impossible to win if you don’t score runs and on the weekend we only scored in two innings and only in one game,” Hartleb said.

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