Illini baseball continues search for consistent play

By Nicholas Fortin

Five weeks into the season, the Illinois baseball team is still searching for consistency.

Inconsistent play has been a cause for concern for the Illini throughout their first four weekends of the year, having been on both ends of a sweep. Illinois (6-7) will get its next chance at a consistent series this weekend as it faces Southern Illinois (8-7) in a three-game series in Carbondale, Ill., starting on Friday.

“At one time or the other, we’ve done each aspect well,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “On the flip side, over the four weekends we’ve done one aspect poorly. We need to go out and we need to find a level of consistency. I’m still looking for the group of guys that we can put out on a regular basis and get production out of them.” 

Offensive production has been both a strength and a weakness at times this season for the Illini. Illinois totaled 29 runs in its first series of the season but had just six last weekend.

In order to combat the inconsistent offense, sophomore outfielder Ryan Nagle said the team would need to work on being more patient at the plate this weekend.

“We’re going to work on hitting behind runners and making contact, too,” Nagle said. “I think we struck out too many times this weekend. We’re trying to go back to the basics.”

Another area for improvement the Illini pointed out was bullpen pitching. The bullpen has struggled this season, allowing teams to get back into games and blowing two saves in the process.

Senior relief pitcher Ronnie Muck said the bullpen is better than it has shown so far this year, and it’s an area the team has been working to improve.

When the Illini travel to Carbondale this weekend, they will play in the inaugural series at the newly renamed Richard “Itchy” Jones Stadium. According to a press release, Jones was a long-time Illinois and Southern Illinois baseball coach who had an instrumental role in the renovation of Southern Illinois’ field. Jones will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the first game Friday.

Both Illinois and Southern Illinois are quite similar when it comes to the struggles this season. Both the Illini and the Salukis were swept in their last weekend of play as Illinois dropped three straight to Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois lost three in a row to South Alabama.

“Southern’s in the same boat we are,” Hartleb said. “They’ve played some good teams and played well on certain weekends, and it looks like they’ve struggled against some good teams at times.”

Illinois has won each of its last four meetings with Southern Illinois, but the Salukis lead the all-time series, 31-28. The Illini view the Salukis not only as a rival but also as a quality club that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Every time we play an in-state team, there’s a rivalry,” Muck said. “We just think we’re better because we have the bigger university, but they’re always pretty competitive with us, so we just have to play like we can and we’ll be alright.”

Junior outfielder Will Krug said while the team will scout Southern Illinois to know what sort of things to look out for on the field, the Illini are more focused on correcting their own play.

“We control what we can control, and that’s our hitting approach and our fielding and stuff, so we’ll work on that,” Krug said.

Hartleb said he isn’t worried about consistency at this point in such a long season but that the team will continue to work to find it.

“You go through your ups and downs,” he said. “We’ve had some highs, we’ve had some lows already, we just need to find the consistent output from each and every player.”

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