Illinois baseball’s bats come alive against Eastern Illinois

By Ethan Swanson, Staff writer

Tuesday night gave Illinois baseball fans a glimpse of the future in its 9-7 win over Eastern Illinois at home. The Illini put multiple freshman pitchers on the mound, who were able to fend off the Panthers behind a stellar offensive performance.

“We had a lot of new guys on the mound, so it was a little bit of a growing process,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “They competed and found a way to work out of jams. I was pleased with the game.”

Quinten Sefcik had only appeared in two innings for the Illini (12-14) prior to the Illini’s mid-week matchup with the Panthers (5-23), and he appeared to have some first-start jitters early on.

Eastern Illinois gave Sefcik his first career-earned runs right away, scoring two runs in the first off a two-out blooper to shallow left field.

The right-hander would then settle down in the following innings, finding support from a couple timely defensive plays and an impressive display of hitting.

The Illini would also score in the first inning, getting an RBI from Dan Rowbottom, who drove in lead-off man Adam Walton.

Sefcik found himself in a bit of trouble in the second and third innings, with runners in scoring positions, but was bailed out by the glove of Walton, who made a spectacular leaping catch at short shop in the second. In the third, Walton started an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to save another run and keep the Panther lead to one.

Illinois would secure its first lead of the game in the bottom of the third. In the frame, Illini catcher Jason Goldstein jacked a two-run home run off Eastern starting pitcher Jake Johansmeier, bringing in second baseman Michael Hurwitz for a 3-2 lead.

“Usually I don’t hit breaking balls very well, but tonight I was able to take a breaking ball and hit a home run off it,” Goldstein said. “That was a good sign for me, and hopefully I can carry that into this weekend and as the season continues.”

The Illini got another run off the bat off first baseman Anthony Drago’s 16th RBI of the season in the fourth inning. The inning would also be the last for Sefcik, who finished the game with one strikeout, two runs and seven hits in four innings pitched.

“I was just happy coach gave me the opportunity to start,” Sefcik said “I hadn’t pitched in four weeks, but you have to be ready for every opportunity. I feel like the coaching staff prepared me enough to start, and I feel like I did my job through four innings.”

The Panthers would also make a pitching change in the fifth inning, which would bode well for the Illini offense.

Illinois scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, to blow the game open at 9-2.

Pat McInerney, Doran Turchin, Luke Schilling and Goldstein would all collect an RBI in the seven-hit inning. The final tally of nine runs and 16 hits both marked season highs for the Illini.

“We really swung the bats well tonight and were productive in scoring positions,” Hartleb said. “Our offense put us in a position where we were able to put a bunch of new guys on the mound.”

However, Eastern would make a valiant comeback effort, taking advantage of the inexperience of freshman relief pitcher Zak Devermann. The Panthers notched three runs in the seventh inning off Devermann, forcing Mathew James to come in with two outs. James would get out of the jam but gave up two runs of his own in the eighth, bringing the score to 9-7.

The Illini’s sixth pitcher of the night, closer Nick Blackburn, would make sure those were all the runs the Panthers would get, getting two strikeouts in the ninth inning to secure the Illinois victory.

“It’s not easy to win, and no one’s a pushover,” Hartleb said. “You have to come out and do things right because the game of baseball can be cruel. Our guys did a good job and a win is win.”

[email protected]