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Illinois’ weekend in South Carolina shows staff’s potential

The Illini won two out of three games out east.

Fightingillini.com

Two weeks into the season Illinois is figuring out its bullpen.

When you’re given seven new pitchers and 11 returnees on the staff, it can be a difficult task to maneuver early in the season, but head coach Dan Hartleb seems like he has the hang of it pretty well.

Despite a 9-2 loss to Western Carolina to start the weekend in South Carolina, the Illini’s pitching performance wasn’t that bad. Ty Rybarczyk took over in the fourth inning against the Catamounts, allowing only one run and striking out six batters. What lacked in that game was an offense from the Illini as they went 1-for-17 with runners on and 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Saturday was the start to a hot weekend for the Illini (3-3). Ty Weber started on the mound against Coastal Carolina for the third time in his career and added a second win against the Chanticleers to his belt.

Weber couldn't have done it without help though. Ryan Kutt (2.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 K) and Ryan Schmitt (1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 K) came in for relief. But with the score being 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, Garrett Acton came in to earn the save and struck out the last batter to stop what would have been Coastal’s go-ahead run.

“A lot of positives and still a lot of things we need to clean up,” Hartleb told FightingIllini.com. “It feels good to get a win. These guys have worked hard and had a good attitude and continue to get better.”

Remember our pitchers preview? If not, you’re going to want to go back and check out Cole Kirschsieper’s numbers because it’s only looking up from here for the freshman. Kirschsieper made his debut on the mound for the Illini on Sunday against West Virginia, and it looks like he’ll quickly earn a spot in the starting rotation.

Kirschsieper had six quick innings, allowing six hits, four strikeouts and one earned run — the only one between both the West Virginia and Coastal Carolina games. The left-hander threw 80 pitches, 59 of which were strikes.

“It was an unbelievably well-pitched game for this early in the year,” Hartleb told FightingIllini.com. “I think Cole has a bright future. He has great composure and continues to improve. Just a good feel and I’m really happy for him in his first start.”

Another pitcher who looked impressive Sunday was sophomore Aidan Maldonado, who allowed just one hit and zero runs over a three-inning save.

But let’s not give all the glory to the pitchers. Sophomore Branden Comia blasted a 347-foot bomb over the left field fence that earned both of Illinois’ runs to win the game, 2-1.

If the Illini are only going to improve from here after this weekend, we could expect to see another tournament appearance from them.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

  • Garrett McGowan hit his first-career home run as an Illini.
  • Garrett Acton’s save to give the Illini their first win of the weekend, and his second save of the 2020 campaign. Acton led the nation in saves last year.

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND

SOUND SMART

Branden Comia is slashing .412/.583/.588 through six games and had a two-run homer on Sunday.

UP NEXT

Illinois has an exciting weekend ahead as it travels to Frisco, Texas, for the Frisco Classic where the Illini will face No. 20 Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and No. 14 UCLA.