Illini baseball swept by Western Kentucky

By Nicholas Fortin

The Illinois baseball team came up short.

The Illini, who swept Florida and Florida Gulf Coast with a combined 19 runs the previous weekend, were swept by Western Kentucky in a three-game series Saturday and Sunday by a total of four runs. 

“We just didn’t do the things it takes to win games,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “In each of the games there was one aspect that we didn’t do well enough, so I wouldn’t say we played poorly, but we didn’t play well enough to win.”

Friday’s game against Western Kentucky was postponed due to weather and led to a Saturday doubleheader. In the first game Saturday, Illinois jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when junior Will Krug stole home. The Illini scored twice more, in the second and seventh innings, and carried a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning. 

Starting pitcher Kevin Duchene contributed five and 2/3 innings and left the game with a lead before the Illini bullpen gave up a three-run eighth inning en route to a 4-3 Western Kentucky victory.

“We didn’t pitch out of the bullpen,” Hartleb said. “We got good starting pitching and we swung the bats pretty well in the first game, and we didn’t get a good performance out of the bullpen.”

The Illini jumped out to a 3-2 lead in second game of the doubleheader before surrendering three unanswered runs and eventually losing, 5-3. Hartleb said the Illini lost because their inability to extend their lead.

“Our pitching was decent in the second game, not great, and we hit a little bit,” Hartleb said. “We had a lead but couldn’t tack on. In that game, we also had an opportunity late to keep us tight and we had a defensive error that hurt us.”

Unlike the first two games of the series, Illinois’ offense was anemic in the third game. Illinois totaled four hits and zero runs and left six runners on base in the game.

Junior starting pitcher Drasen Johnson threw seven scoreless innings before allowing the one run of the game in the eighth. Hartleb said the lack of offense took away from what was a great pitching performance by Johnson.

“The third game, we didn’t swing the bat very well,” Hartleb said. “We only had two hits going into the last inning and both of those hits were in the second inning. If you don’t score runs, it’s impossible to win. We had a good starting pitching performance out of Drasen Johnson, he deserved to win but again when you don’t score runs, it’s tough.”

The Illini tallied six runs on 24 hits on the weekend. Junior first basemen David Kerian said Illinois’ offense was “all right” on the weekend, but that the Illini still need to bring more energy offensively.

“Overall it’s just bringing the energy to want to compete against every team we play, no matter who it is,” Kerian said. “Just coming to the field, competing every day and proving that we deserve to be out there with the other team and that we’re a good team ourselves.”

Illinois’ pitching staff gave up 10 runs on the weekend, a major improvement from its 28 earned runs in the first week of the season, but it still wasn’t enough for the Illini to win.

Junior pitcher John Kravetz said the Illinois pitching staff pitched relatively well throughout the weekend, but the team still needs to work on winning close games.

“We’d have a little spark and then they’d come back and answered most of the time,” Kravetz said. “Offensively, (we) couldn’t really get a big inning going. We pitched decent as a team for the most part.

“It just comes down to having clutch hitting, clutch pitching and finding ways to win.”

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