Illinois baseball plays in-state for the first time this season

By Cole Henke

Tweet: .@IlliniBaseball does not have its leader, Jason Goldstein, for its series in Carbondale this weekend. #Illini

The Illinois baseball team will play in-state for the first time this season, traveling to Carbondale, Illinois for matchups against Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois.

The schedule will look the same as the Illini’s trip to South Carolina last weekend — two two-game series with one game on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.

The trip to South Carolina was the worst four-game stretch for the Illini in years. UNC-Greensboro and Coastal Carolina both swept the Illini last weekend, who lost four straight games for the first time since 2012. 

But senior Adam Walton said that this losing streak is a good test.

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    “Adversity is going to be good for this team,” Walton said. ”We are a veteran team with some young guys, and we just need to come together well. We didn’t play well in any facet of the game last weekend, so we need to have the confidence that we can win this weekend.”

    This is the only time this season that Illinois will face SIU (9-6-1) and NIU (2-14). The Salukis have been winning games more with their arms rather than their bats. The Salukis have a team ERA of 3.26, with the bullpen being their strong point.

    In the last 9 1/3 innings pitched, the Saluki bullpen has given up one run on two hits, striking out nine in the process.

    Sophomore Ryan Netemeyer is the closer for SIU. He has given up one run in 11 1/3 innings and recorded three saves.

    If the Saluki pitching staff stays true to form, then the Illini will need their defense to recover from its poor performance last weekend and keep the score low.

    The Illini recorded 11 errors last weekend, leading to their opponents scoring 13 unearned runs.

    Before last weekend, the Illini recorded 11 errors over nine games. In 2015, the Illini recorded 66 errors in 61 games.

    “It was just one of those weekends,” Walton said. “It was just a freak thing where everybody played bad at the same time.”

    The Huskies pitching staff does not pose the same threat. It has posted a team ERA of 5.35, and has given up more than 10 runs in eight games, including a 29-16 loss to Murray State.

    The Illini took a big hit when catcher Jason Goldstein hurt his hamstring. He is listed as day-to-day, but he will definitely not be playing this weekend.

    Goldstein currently leads the team in batting average and hits and is tied for the most RBI’s despite only playing in 11 games.

    Goldstein has just as big of an impact behind the plate. He has played catcher in 160 games for the Illini in his career. But head coach Dan Hartleb said his team has plenty of depth to make up for Goldstein’s absence.

    “Moving forward we have two very good options in (sophomore) Mark Skonieczny and (freshman) David Craan,” Hartleb said. “I am very confident with those two guys and what they can bring to the table. We have good depth in a lot of positions, and we will be in good shape regardless of who is behind the plate.”

    Both Craan and Skonieczny have appeared in five games for the Illini. Skonieczny has only 11 at-bats for the Illini and is batting .182, while Craan has nine at-bats and is batting .222. Skoncieczny appeared in 15 games for the Illini last season and went 2-for-9 at the plate.

    The loss of Goldstein makes the Illini players focus on what they need to do, which is exactly what Hartleb wants. Hartleb knows his team can’t worry about what its opponents are doing.

    “I really don’t worry about the other teams,” Hartleb said. “I only worry about what we are doing, and if we do things that we are capable of doing. If we play solid as a team, then we will be in good shape. I don’t put much into what the opponents are doing.”