Illinois baseball wins sixth straight

Illinois+Jason+Goldstein+%2834%29+runs+for+third+base+during+the+baseball+game+v.+Northwestern+at+Illinois+Field+on+Saturday%2C+April+4.+Illinois+won+11-4.

Illinois’ Jason Goldstein (34) runs for third base during the baseball game v. Northwestern at Illinois Field on Saturday, April 4. Illinois won 11-4.

By Joey Figueroa

Eastern Illinois starting pitcher Christian Slazinik was nursing a 12.23 ERA before Tuesday’s game against Illinois. It took just one inning against the Illini offense for his ERA to jump to 14.34.

No. 25 Illinois (25-6-1) took advantage of a five-run first inning to secure a 14-10 victory over Eastern Illinois (1-24) in Charleston, Illinois, on Tuesday afternoon.

A 15-minute rain delay couldn’t slow down the Illini bats to start this one. Illinois’ first three batters reached base before junior catcher and reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Jason Goldstein belted a grand slam to left field with no outs. Two batters later, first baseman David Kerian followed suit with his conference-leading eighth longball of the season.

Behind two walks, two doubles and two home runs, the Illini jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the fans in Charleston could even get settled in.

“Any time the first guys on the team get on base, it gives a lot of people confidence,” Goldstein said. “When you’re confident that you could get hits, you’d be surprised how many times a hit comes.”

Illinois has made a habit of jumping out to quick starts and have now outscored opponents 93-31 in the first four innings of this season’s games.

The early offense came from both sides, though. After a scoreless first inning, Illinois starter Cody Sedlock allowed six hits in the second and third innings, and the Panthers rallied to take a 6-5 lead. Sedlock left the game with two outs in the third, after allowing four earned runs on eight hits.

Unlike the Panthers, the Illini’s hot hitting carried over into the middle innings. To answer Eastern Illinois’ third inning rally, Illinois plated five more runs in the fourth. Five different Illini drove in runs and seven different Illini reached base in the inning.

Illinois managed two more runs in the sixth inning on RBIs from center fielder Will Krug and shortstop Adam Walton and one more in the eighth powered by third baseman Ryne Roper’s first home run of the year.

Illinois has now scored double-digit runs in three-straight games. All nine Illini batters either scored or drove in a run against the Panthers.

“From top to bottom of the order, we had threats,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “There’s always something positive that each hitter’s going to give us to help score runs.”

After shutting the door on the Panther’s third-inning rally, relief pitcher J.D. Nielsen pitched three-straight scoreless innings. The 6-foot-6 junior allowed just two hits and a walk while picking up three strikeouts on his way to earning his first win of the season.

Hartleb praised the lefty’s day on the mound, but Nielsen said it was just another day’s work.

“I was just trying to go out and do my job and keep the ball down in the zone and throw strikes with all my pitches,” Nielsen said. “It worked out for me today.”

Following Nielsen’s exit, the Illini bullpen allowed four runs over the final three innings. But it was too little, too late, for the Panthers, and the Illini escaped Charleston with a 14-10 victory.

Illinois has now won six straight and is 5-0 in midweek matchups.

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