Illini baseball bounces back after stifled start to weekend

After being swept by Gonzaga in which they were dominated by the Bulldogs’ pitching staff, Illini baseball head coach Dan Hartleb knew he had to make some changes to his lineup.

“We just have to get a couple guys to show up and play hard everyday, then we can have guys in everyday roles,” Hartleb said.

Illinois responded with a pair of nine-run performances against Lamar, winning comfortably, 9-2, in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader and edging out a 9-8 victory to close the weekend slate in Beaumont, Texas.

A split in the YMBL Cardinal Classic for the Illini isn’t exactly what Hartleb hoped for but he said his team did make some progress.

“We can do better, but as a young team we have to keep our intensity every game,” Hartleb said.

Illinois is now 3-4 two weeks into the season, and it has faced some quality opponents; Gonzaga is still undefeated after seven games and its pitching was the difference in the series against Illinois.

Bulldogs left handers Marco Gonzalez and Andy Hunter combined for 17 innings with a 2.83 ERA while Illini starters struggled. The Illini were outscored 20-6 in the two games against Gonzaga.

Illinois starter Kevin Johnson struggled again Friday in an outing that lasted 4 2/3 innings and left with his team trailing 5-0. Illinois would go on to lose 13-3. Johnson was hindered by two Illini errors and took his second loss of the season. Rob McDonnell went 5 2/3 and gave up a pair of unearned runs to go along with five earned runs in Illinois’ 7-3 loss to the Bulldogs.

Illinois did get quality relief pitching from Matt Milroy, Luke Joyce and Ronnie Muck, who combined for eight scoreless relief innings in Saturday’s doubleheader.

As good of a job as the bullpen did Saturday, it was a weak spot Sunday. The bullpen gave back an 8-2 Illini lead Sunday before Jordan Parr drove in the game-winning run in the top of the ninth.

“It felt great,” Parr said. “It was obviously a huge run for my team and helped us win the game.”

The first innings of the two games against Lamar were key for the Illini, who scored four in Saturday afternoon’s opening inning and three in Sunday’s first frame.

Freshman John Kravetz once again was solid for Illinois after his first career start Sunday with 5 1/3 innings and three earned runs.

Illinois thinks it can do better, and Parr echoed his team’s mindset.

“I think sometimes things didn’t go our way, but we kept up our energy level,” he said. “We keep working hard and we’ll get more wins.”