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 takes 2 at First Pitch Invitational

Olivia McAfoos
Graduate student Cooper Omans throws out the first pitch at the home opening game against Eastern Illinois on Feb. 28.

At its third tournament outing in the Carolinas, Illinois baseball (5-6) took down Western Michigan (6-5), was defeated by Florida State (10-0) and beat Michigan State (4-7). The Illini hit a groove this weekend and signed their first tournament with a winning record in the books.

With eight games under his belt in his 18th season as head coach, Dan Hartleb spoke before the weekend about figuring out the team’s dynamic as he moves different players around in the lineup.

“We still have to figure out who’s going to be able to compete in tight, tough situations,” Hartleb said. “You need guys that will continue to improve each and every day. We’ve got to figure out which guys we can get in the lineup on a regular basis that are going to compete and put us in a position to score runs.”

Inclement weather on Friday compressed the weekend’s schedule and created a doubleheader for Illinois on Saturday. The Illini started hot, putting up four runs in the top of the first inning against Western Michigan. Junior catcher Camden Janik and junior designated hitter Vytas Valincius slugged early, with both recording RBI doubles to open the scoring.

Hartleb gave the start to senior right-handed pitcher Logan Tabeling, who totaled seven strikeouts, allowing three hits and two runs across the first five frames. Western Michigan picked up two runs in the fourth, and Janik continued Illinois’ scoring with a solo home run in the fifth.

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The Illini held the lead until the eighth inning when the Broncos tied it, eventually forcing a tenth frame with the score knotted at six. Junior third baseman Coltin Quagliano drove in two runs on a triple, and senior right-handed pitcher Jake Rons earned his first win as an Illini by keeping the Broncos scoreless in the ninth and tenth innings.

Unable to carry momentum from their afternoon victory, the Illini fell into a 7-0 deficit against Florida State. Illinois battled back, bringing home runners in the fourth inning from freshman left fielder Cameron Chee-Aloy’s RBI triple and senior shortstop Cal Hejza’s base knock to drive a run in.

The Illini found scrappy runs in the fifth inning to add three runs on the board. Graduate catcher Jacob Schroeder took a pitch to the body with the bases loaded. Schroeder eventually reached home on a wild pitch, advancing on the base path from a single hit by graduate second baseman Brody Harding that also drove in a run. Illinois put up two more runs in the sixth inning off RBI singles from Schroeder and Harding but failed to bring runners home in the remaining frames, while the Seminoles tacked on six more scores, leading to a 13-7 final score.

“We’ve progressed in a good way,” Quagliano said. “Traveling for the first four weekends is always tough. You get a good feel for your team and who’s clicking and who’s not. When those people aren’t clicking as much, we still stay together as a team. Taking everything one pitch at a time is what’s best for us. Buying in together, sticking with each other and sticking to our process.”

Illinois bounced back on Sunday and finished the First Pitch Invitational with a victory over Michigan State. The game does not count for conference records, but the Illini controlled the Spartans in their first competition against a Big Ten opponent of the season.

Bats were alive across Illinois’ lineup with all nine starters recording a hit. Graduate center fielder Asher Bradd, Harding and Quagliano all recorded two, and junior first baseman Drake Westcott drove in three runs with a bomb to right-center.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jake Swartz had his way on the mound, striking out nine of the first ten batters faced. The Illini controlled the lead throughout the game featuring four three-run innings, leading to a 12-6 victory in the tournament finale.

Illinois stays on the road with next weekend’s three-game series in Knoxville against No. 8 Tennessee (11-1). A single competition at Indiana State is slated before Illinois returns to Illinois Field hosting Southern Indiana under the lights on March 15.


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