Illini returns with determination to reduce walks after loss against Billikens


Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

The Illini celebrate their victory over Illinois State over the weekend. They won the series 3-0 over Illinois State.

By Miles Powers-Huang, Staff writer

After an 8-3 loss to wrap up a short two-game road trip to St. Louis, Illinois head baseball coach Dan Hartleb had a clear message for his pitching staff.

“We need to eliminate the free passes,” Hartleb said. “We just gotta learn from it, brush it aside (and) come out and be a better team Friday night.”

Hartleb spoke following a pitching performance resulting in seven total walks, causing the Illini to fall even though they outhit the Billikens.

Following a three-game series sweep of Illinois State at home, it’s clear Hartelb’s staff got the message.

In Friday’s opener — a 14-3 victory — the trio of seniors Andy Fisher, Tyler Engel and freshman Caleb Larson walked just three batters combined. Fisher also struck out seven batters while allowing one run on just two hits in six innings of work.

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    Offensively, three Illini — senior Jack Yalowitz, junior Ben Troike and freshman Branden Comia — each drove in three runs. Yalowitz collected all of his RBI’s on a three-run homer in the fourth, a no-doubter that looked gone off the bat causing the Redbird right fielder to give a half-hearted courtesy turn before stopping well short of the wall.

    The following day was a much different script as junior starter Ty Weber nearly brought Illinois the victory by himself.

    Weber carried a shutout for 8 2/3 innings and walked just one batter along the way.

    “All my pitches, I could command really at any point in the count,” Weber said. “That really helped me throughout the game. I (knew) Illinois State was a very aggressive team and being able to throw an off-speed pitch early on in the count when they were sitting fastball really allowed me to keep them off balance and get further into the game.”

    On the brink of a complete game shutout, Weber tailed off a bit and allowed two Redbirds to cross the plate. The junior was removed with the tying run up to bat as closer Garrett Acton took over. The ever-reliable closer finished the game, throwing the 27th out of the game as the Illini held on for a 4-2 win.

    Though he wanted to go the distance, something he’s already accomplished twice in his career, Weber understood early in the season the risk of injury outweighs the reward of a third complete game.

    “I knew my pitch count was getting high, and it’s still early on in the year, and I know they wouldn’t want to push anything for possible injury and that’s the last thing we need,” Weber said. “I mean, would I have like to finish it? Yeah, but I totally understand their logic behind taking me out.”

    Weber was aided on the day by a pair of RBI singles from freshman outfielder Cam McDonald. With a more than capable offense to support them, the Illini pitching staff knows if they can keep the ball in the zone, Illinois will be an extremely tough team to beat.

    “We notice that opponent batting average is so low, and really the only way we hurt ourselves is by walking guys,” Weber said.

    Sunday’s game was similar to Friday’s as the Illini bats came alive again to tally 12 runs on the board.

    Standing at just 5-feet 10-inches and weighing 170 pounds, Ben Troike isn’t a player opposing pitchers fear will take them deep. However, the junior homered twice on Sunday, smashing two solo shots that each cleared the left field wall by some distance. Senior third baseman Grant Van Scoy, another small player in terms of stature, added another solo home run to left, knocking a high-fly ball that caught the wind and drifted just over the wall.

    Freshman starter Nathan Lavender collected his first career win, going four shutout innings and striking out four. The Illini would conclude the final five innings with five different arms, cruising to a 12-1 victory.

    Sitting at 17-4 with the first Big Ten series of the season at Iowa next weekend, Weber said if the team can continue to improve on the coaching staff’s goals for them, Illinois can be a contender.

    “If we can limit the walks in the pitching staff, we’re gonna find that our stuff will just be that much better,” Weber said. “Not only our team but just teams in general, if you can have the timely hitting of driving in runs with two outs and never taking your foot off the gas, that is very important for us.”


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