Jay shines in starting debut for Illini baseball

By Peter Bailey-Wells

After finishing his sophomore season with 10 saves, pitcher Tyler Jay seemed to think he’d be locked in as the closer for the Illinois baseball team. On Sunday, Jay made his first career start for the Illini, throwing five innings of shutout ball. Jay replaced suspended junior pitcher Kevin Duchene, who didn’t travel with the team to Beaumont, Texas, and who, according to head coach Dan Hartleb, won’t play for the Illini next weekend.

Jay struck out four, allowed only a pair of hits and collected the win in Illinois’ 9-3 victory over Lamar. 

“It’s a luxury to have a guy who bounces back like that,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “He has the mentality that he can be a closer or a starter, and some guys can’t do that, so to have a guy with that versatility in our program is awesome.”

Jay added that when he finishes games as a closer, he often thinks his arm is fresh enough to keep pitching. Hartleb noted that Jay was limited to a pitch count in his start. On Saturday, Jay picked up a one-inning save against New Mexico State in his only other appearance over the weekend.  

Kravetz moves up the charts

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Senior starter John Kravetz tossed seven hitless innings Saturday afternoon against Lamar, picking up a win in his season debut and moving to a tie for eighth on Illinois’ all-time win list. Kravetz’s career record stands at 20-7, 10 wins shy of Andy Dickinson and Mark Dressen’s school-record 30 career wins.

Kravetz went 6-1 last season and was named to the All-Big Ten second team. His single-season high for wins is eight, the number he won his freshman year. 

He retired the first 11 Cardinals, not allowing a base runner until the fourth inning.

“I had a few quick innings to start off,” Kravetz said. “The 3-0 lead felt like 10-0. It’s not always going to be like that, but Saturday it was.”

Kravetz was the first Illini starting pitcher to pick up a win this season after Illinois needed late-game comebacks to beat New Mexico State in its opening pair of games. Despite not getting credit for the win, game two starter Rob McDonnell was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week after throwing 10 strikeouts in seven shutout inning.

Ropers both produce

Illinois infielders and brothers Reid and Ryne Roper are entering their second season starting together and began the year with a bang this weekend.

Sophomore Ryne Roper went 0-for-5 in Friday’s season opener but rattled off three hits Saturday morning against New Mexico State. His day included a two-out, two-run single that put the Illini ahead for good in the eighth inning. Ryne finished the weekend with six hits, starting all four games for the Illini at third base. 

Older brother Reid proved to be Illinois’ most versatile player this weekend, collecting seven hits and seven RBIs, while also throwing an inning of scoreless relief in the Illini’s Friday win.

“The fact that we came from behind to win that game was exciting,” Reid said. “To go in there and close it out was pretty cool.”

Reid appeared in six games as a reliever for the Illini last season, notching one save and striking out eight, while not giving up a single run. Hartleb said down the road he expects Ryne, who was a pitcher in high school, to fill the reliever role that Reid occupies.

Peter can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PBaileyWells.