Balanced game pushes Illinois baseball past Coastal Carolina

By Michal Dwojak, Assistant sports editor

After suffering its first two losses of the season Saturday and Sunday, the Illinois baseball team made sure it would leave Springs Brooks Stadium in Conway, South Carolina, with a win against Coastal Carolina on Monday.

Showing little offensive intensity in the weekend’s four games prior to Monday’s, the Illini responded with a barrage of hits and a strong pitching performance to defeat Coastal Carolina 7-1. Illinois (9-2-1) won three of five games in South Carolina this weekend.

“It was good to see us break out of things today,” head coach Dan Hartleb said Monday. “After really struggling for four games offensively, we came out today and had a very good offensive day.”

Illinois’ players were not happy with the team’s offensive performance in Saturday and Sunday’s losses. Many felt that they weren’t taking quality at-bats to back up strong pitching performances. On Monday, the Illini responded with 12 hits and every member of the starting lineup contributed at least one hit.

Second baseman Reid Roper led the way with three hits, an RBI and two runs scored. Roper started the Illini off in the first inning with an RBI single to center field that scored shortstop Adam Walton from second and gave Illinois a 1-0 lead.

The Illini added three runs in the top of the fourth on a David Kieran RBI single and a Pat McInerney double that scored two more, knocking Coastal Carolina pitcher Cole Schaefer out of the game after 3 1/3 innings. They cushioned their lead with a Matthew James solo homer in the eighth and Ryan Nagle two-RBI single in the ninth.

Although the team had 12 hits, what stood out to many of the players was that the hits were timely. Over the first three days of the weekend, Illinois hit balls right at fielders. Monday, the Illini got on base with line drives, putting the team in a rhythm, no matter who was at the plate.

“The type of lineup that we have is where one guy can step up and have a great weekend,” Roper said. “It’s great to have that kind of lineup where we can pick each other up and rely on each other.”

The seven runs were more than enough for the Illini pitching staff. Sophomore Cody Sedlock pitched four hitless innings and only gave up two base runners on a walk and hit-by-pitch in his first start of the season. The Illinois bullpen limited Coastal Carolina to two hits and one run and junior Tyler Jay pitched three innings to earn the save and give Sedlock his second win of the season.

Sedlock’s performance was just one of Illinois’ many strong outings this weekend. The preseason outlook for the pitching staff was strong, and the Illini have held true to those expectations so far this season. Many on the team have said the pitching staff is the unit of the team that can make the difference when the postseason arrives.

“It energizes everyone on the team,” senior center fielder Will Krug said of the strong performances from the pitching staff. “It’s an intimidation factor on the team, it’s something that makes a huge difference.”

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