Head Coach Dan Hartleb’s squad is now 14-4 following a two-game weekday series split against Saint Louis University.
The Illini had swept four of their first five series and looked to do the same in St. Louis.
The Illini won the first game 4-1, but fell in the second 8-3.
The Illini played a doubleheader last Saturday and a game on Sunday against the Southern Illinois Salukis, and won all three games.
The regular starting pitchers, Andy Fisher, Ty Weber and Cyrillo Watson all pitched over the weekend and would not be rested enough to pitch on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the Illini had some choices to make.
The opening day starter Quinn Snarskis was not the choice for either game. Instead, the Illini gave the ball to freshman Aiden Maldonado on Tuesday and Nathan Lavender on Wednesday — each for their first collegiate starts — against the Billikens.
The Illini defeated the Billikens in a nail biter 4-1 on Tuesday.
The Illini offense was able to score behind a two-hit, two-RBI performance from senior backstop Jeff Korte. Korte’s two RBI came when Cam McDonald scored, and McDonald added two RBI of his own to account for the Illini’s four runs.
McDonald is still roaming centerfield in the absence of Zac Taylor (the only player in the NCAA with a .400 average, multiple home runs, 12+ runs and 12+ steals) and has been productive in the five-spot in the order.
In Maldonado’s starting pitching debut, he walked five in three innings but only gave up one run. Ryan Schmitt picked up the win out of the pen as he, Sean Leland and Garret Acton picked up the last six innings in shutout fashion.
Acton’s inning did not come easy, the bases were loaded before a game-ending double play ball.
Saint Louis was simply unable to get the big hit against the Illini. The Billikens stranded 11 runners on base and their only offense came from catcher Cam Redding who reached base five times and came around to score just once.
Following the 4-1 win, Hartleb said : “The thing I love about this team is they are very unselfish.”
Hartleb’s unselfish group was back in action the following day, with a different result.
The tides turned on Wednesday afternoon as the Illini fell to the Billikens 8-3 for the team’s first loss since March 4th, snapping the Illini’s seven game winning streak.
Saint Louis was able to get the big hit on Wednesday, all thanks to their No. 9 hitter Kevin Jordan who went 3-for-3 with a dinger and drove in five runs.
Illinois was led offensively by first basemen Kellen Sarver and McDonald. Both tallied two hits and Saver’s average is up to .357 on the season. Shortstop Ben Troike, DH Michael Massey and right fielder Jack Yalowitz all drove in runs for Hartleb’s team.
McDonald played center field again on Wednesday in the absence of Taylor, who has now missed five straight due to an ankle injury against Grand Canyon from running into the wall in centerfield.
The Illini were the team on Wednesday who could not find the big hit, as they outhit the Billikens 10 to eight but also left nine runners on base.
The pitching staff as a whole struggled to find the strike zone, issuing seven free passes on Wednesday alone.
Nathan Lavender’s first start consisted of three hits, two runs, two walks and four strikeouts in three innings pitched.
After the Illini’s series split, their record goes to 14-4, while the Billikens leave the series at 10-10.
On deck for the Illini is their second straight inner-state weekend series. This weekend the Illinois State Redbirds come to Illinois Field for a three-game set against the Illini.
You can expect to see Andy Fisher, Ty Weber and Cyrillo Watson back on the mound this weekend for the Orange and Blue.
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