Illini baseball drops two against Tulane, Drago has good weekend at the plate
February 22, 2016
The Illinois baseball team nearly did something that it hasn’t done in over a year – lose three straight games.
After dropping its first two games against No. 19 Tulane (2-1) in New Orleans, the Illini (1-2) edged out a 5-2 victory in come-from-behind fashion Sunday.EJ
“It was an important win,” head coach Dan Hartleb said.EJ “You beat a ranked team and you beat them on the road, so that’s something positive. (But) I’m disappointed. We had a chance to win three games. We’ve got our work cut out for us over the course of the next few weeks to get where we need to be.”
In game one, the Illini held a 5-2 lead heading to the bottom of the 10th – they scored two runs in the top of the ninth to knot the game at two.EJ Relief pitcher Nick Blackburn entered the game and gave up a game-winning three-run home run.EJ
Resilience is one of the qualities that last season’s historic team (50-10-1) possessed. Hartleb repeatedly said that it was that characteristic that helped his team propel itself to its first-ever NCAA Super Regional.
Hartleb is stressing resilience to this year’s squad.
“It’s important that you have a short memory. Both during the game and then day to day,” Hartleb said. “Nick was probably as poor as I’ve seen him on Friday, then he came out today and did an outstanding job. You have to be able to come out and make that adjustment.”
From the bench to the starting nine
Designated hitter Anthony Drago was an offensive catalyst this weekend.EJ He went 1-for-3 Friday but knocked in a game-tying clutch RBI in the ninth.EJ
Saturday Drago had two of the team’s four five hits. Both those hits came against senior Alex Massey, who went seven innings and gave up four hits while walking three and striking out eight.
The junior followed up with another clutch performance at the plate in the series finale. With two outs in the eighth and nobody on, Drago doubled to begin a three-run rally.
Drago was used in limited action during his first two seasons. He appeared in seven games his freshman year and three as a sophomore – all as a pinch-hitter.EJ
“I had a real hard time my freshman and sophomore year making adjustments as a pinch-hitter,” Drago said. “As a starter, now I know I’m going to get the same arm at least two times.”
Ranked opponent comes early
On paper, Tulane is the hardest team Illinois has faced to start a recent season. But catcher Jason Goldstein considers that a plus.EJ
“Usually, every year we have that one marquee series on the road,” Goldstein said. “Usually, it’s the third of fourth weekend so we have a chance to get our feet underneath us. This year, we were thrown right in the fire. But I think it helped. (Especially) with our freshman. They did a great job.”
Friday’s game against Tulane had an outcome that Goldstein is not too accustomed to.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game go the way it did Friday night,” Goldstein said. “Usually when a team comes back and ties it in dramatic fashion and then take the lead, very rarely do you see the other team come back and win. But, for Nick, it was just one bad pitch. We’re still confident with him out there on the mound.”