Illini baseball shuts out Indiana State in home opener

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  • Illinois’ Rob McDonnell pitches the ball during the game against Indiana State at Illinois Field, on Tuesday, Mar. 18. The Illini won 8-0.

By Nicholas Fortin

All the Illinois baseball team needed to break its slump was a trip home.

After going 1-2 against Southern Illinois over the weekend, Illinois was able to get back to its winning ways with an 8-0 victory over Indiana State in the Illini’s home opener Tuesday.

“It felt great,” starting pitcher Rob McDonnell said. “We had people out here. The dugout was pretty rowdy, cheering my name. It made me feel good, and it was just good to get a win.” 

Illinois was solid in all aspects against Indiana State, but the offense proved to be a bright spot as the Illini scored eight runs on 11 hits. Illinois had solid contributions from second baseman Reid Roper and catcher Jason Goldstein, both going 3-for-3 in the game.

“Overall we played very well today,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “The offense came out early. I thought there were some advantage counts where we could have put some better swings on some balls, but overall I thought we really improved today.” 

After going down in order in the first inning, the Illini tallied their first two runs in the second inning. Illinois scored its first run when Indiana State’s pitcher Trent Lunsford walked right fielder Casey Fletcher with the bases loaded. Ryne Roper hit a single to the gap that drove in another run and the Illini led 2-0 after the second.

Illinois tacked on another run in the third before tallying four more in the fifth inning to push the team’s lead to 7-0. The four-run fifth started with center fielder Will Krug singling up the middle and advancing to third on a wild throw to first base.  

The Sycamores changed pitchers but didn’t slow the Illini offense as left fielder Ryan Nagle drove in Krug on a double. Goldstein drove in two more runs before Roper singled to bring in Illinois’ seventh run of the game.

The Illinois offense was silent for an inning before Goldstein hit the first home run of his Illini career, nailing the left field scoreboard in the seventh. Goldstein’s home run was a fitting explanation point for the Illini, who broke out of an offensive slump in a big way.

“(We played) a lot better then we have been,” Goldstein said. “We’ve had a bad approach for the first few weekends, and we came out and we put it together for a game. Hopefully we can continue that into the next series.”

Illinois’ offense was backed up by a solid defensive performance that included several sprinting catches by Krug and an outfield assist from Nagle, along with three double plays in the game.

McDonnell, who threw five innings of shutout baseball and struck out six, picked up his first win of the year. After a shaky first inning that included a double and a walk, McDonnell was able to settle down, striking out the side in the second inning. 

“We applied pressure early,” McDonnell said. “It was important to get out there and, as soon as we scored runs in an inning, to put up a zero. I was able to do that.”

McDonnell said he thought playing at home contributed to the team’s improved play. He also added that with the Illini hosting four games against Xavier this weekend, he wants the team to string some wins together.

“In the home opener we always want to get that W,” McDonnell said. “We have a four-game series this weekend. It’s good to get the W now so we can hopefully get a win streak going.”

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