The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois baseball lights up Eastern Illinois in home opening win

Jacob Slabosz
Junior INF Drake Westcott hits the ball during the game against Michigan on Apr. 1.

Illinois (3-5) struggled over the weekend, losing all three games in blowout fashion in South Carolina. However, for the first time in 2024, the Illini were in action in Champaign on Tuesday against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.

The earliest outdoors home opener in program history, the Illini were greeted by a gorgeous sunny day with a brisk breeze. Looking to get their first home opener win since 2021, the Illini offense scorched the Panthers’ pitching staff, going for 12 hits, four of which were home runs, in a 12-2 victory.

On the bump for the Illini was graduate student Cooper Omans, a left-handed pitcher. Omans had one previous outing — a four-inning start against Akron where he gave up a pair of runs and walks and also struck out a pair of batters.

Omans got off to a solid start with a punchout and a clean first inning. The Illini offense picked up some of that momentum, taking an early 1-0 lead, followed by a 395-foot home run from redshirt junior first baseman Drake Westcott to take a 3-0 lead in the first.

The second inning was similar, for the Illini at least. Another solid inning from Omans led to an offensive explosion from the bats, adding another three runs. Illinois took a 6-0 lead entering the third inning, with Omans still on the mound.

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The lefty continued his strong start, hitting his stride with four straight strikeouts as the offense started to stall out in the third and fourth innings. Heading into the fifth inning, Oman had racked up six punchouts.

Westcott added another homer to the day, this time a two-run jack in the fifth inning. The towering shot sailed over the right-centerfield wall. Senior right-hander Will Lavin entered in the sixth inning as relief for Omans, who finished his day with six punchouts and a five-inning shutout, much to the delight of head coach Dan Hartleb.

“I thought his first four innings were really clean,” Hartleb said. “He had a couple of base runners on and threw quality pitches to get out of those, thought he got a little tired in the fifth, but he found a way to get through that.”

Junior catcher Camden Janik hit a laser out to left field in the sixth inning, adding another run to the Illini lead which stood at 9-0 following the 102-mile-per-hour home run. Heading to the back three of the game, the Illini offense continued to chug through pitching as the Panthers threw their fifth pitcher of the game to the mound.

Illinois added yet another run, this time via a sacrifice fly to straight away centerfield, extending the lead to 10-0. The next batter, graduate infielder Brody Harding, roped a ball straight through the shortstop’s glove for another run, as Illinois entered the eighth inning with an 11-0 lead.

Graduate catcher Jacob Schroeder made a pinch-hit appearance for the Illini in the eighth, and it was successful, to say the least. The Chicago native smoked a ball to left field, as he made it a 12-0 lead for the hosts.

Senior left-hander Payton Hutchings took the mound in the ninth, looking to finish off a dominant effort in the home opener. Unfortunately for the Illini, the shutout was no longer intact, as the Panthers drove in a few consolation runs, but the result was still never in doubt.

The Illini are back in action in South Carolina over the weekend with three games across Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Illinois will take on Florida State, Western Michigan and fellow Big Ten member Michigan State across the weekend in the First Pitch Invitational.



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About the Contributors
Adam Rosen, Assistant Sports Editor
Hello! I’m Adam and I’m a senior majoring in journalism. I’m one of the assistant sports editors, and this is my second year with The DI. I love to talk about sports, so if you have any questions or desire to talk about a random athlete from 10 years ago or why Messi > Ronaldo, contact me at my email below!
Jacob Slabosz
Jacob Slabosz, Editor-in-Chief
Hey, I’m Jacob! I am currently a sophomore in computer engineering with a minor in German. I started at The Daily Illini in Fall 2022 as a news reporter and staff photographer, and by Spring 2023, I had worked my way to photo editor. Between March 2023 and March 2024, I was the Managing Editor for Visuals, and I have since taken over as Editor-in-Chief. When I’m not taking pictures for The DI or for fun, I enjoy cooking, water sports and tending to my numerous houseplants. I’m excited to use my background in coding to further automate out workspace processes and to see the content that our team produces!
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