Personal success diminished for Illinois baseball after weekend losses

By Nicholas Fortin

For the second week in a row, the Illinois baseball team’s losses diminished the individual success of its players.

Junior Drasen Johnson, a relief pitcher turned starter in the offseason, said although he was happy with his first win as a starter Saturday against Coastal Carolina, he was more concerned with the fact that the Illini finished the weekend with a losing record.

“It was nice to get the win,” Johnson said. “Defense made a lot of nice plays. I made a few key pitches to get a couple of strikeouts with men on. Overall, it was nice, but we came out with a losing record again, which was not fun.”

Johnson has played well in his first two appearances since moving into the main rotation. In his first game of the season against Georgia State, Johnson threw a career-high 10 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings and left the game with a 5-4 lead. In his second against Coastal Carolina, he threw 6 2/3 innings to go along with five strikeouts and a win.

Both Johnson and head coach Dan Hartleb liked the improvement they saw from the pitching staff as a whole over the weekend.

“Especially the first two days, we were ahead in the count,” Hartleb said. “I thought we threw much better pitches, location-wise, we were down in the zone and we got a number of ground balls, which we didn’t have last week. The pitchers made progress, which is good. It’s encouraging and it’s something I think they’re very capable of doing.”

Offense fails to capitalize 

The Illinois baseball team had a hard time scoring runs this weekend.

A week removed from putting up 29 runs in its season-opening series, the most the Illini had scored in an opening series in over four years, Illinois offense was stagnant for most of the second weekend of the season, managing just five runs.

Illinois scored in just two of the 27 innings it played in throughout the Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach tournament. Junior outfielder Will Krug said the scoring drought could be partially linked to an inability to move runners over and capitalize on opportunities.

“When you do have guys on, especially when you get them to second and third, mentally, getting those runs in is a huge boost,” Krug said. “When we can, we have to make the most of it. That’s just something we’ll continue to work on and have worked on. Moving runners, hitting behind runners and stuff like that. Complain all you want, but when it comes down to it, you just have to execute.”

The Illini left 27 runners on base on the weekend, three more than the team did in its first weekend of action.

Communication key to success

Aside from producing runs and capitalizing on runners, Krug said the Illini will also need to communicate better on the field increase their win total.

“We can communicate a little bit more,” Krug said. “For the most part it was decent. We had certain times in certain games where the focus just isn’t all there, which happens sometimes.”

Johnson added that Illinois took steps forward in other areas of the game, including on the mound, but emphasized that the team will continue to work on communication in order to have success.

“We do the same things every day, working on the fundamentals,” Johnson said. “Talking, letting everyone know what they’re doing, staying on the same page and we just need to translate that into the game.”

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