Smile Politely

Illini back on track

Reid Roper slides into home on Friday.

The University of Illinois baseball team had some relative success this past weekend, taking two of three games against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Illinois Field.

Friday night had its share of strangeness and oddities. We can start with the cold and rain which granted is not rare here in Champaign especially this time this time of year. However, it’s not every game that we experience a power outage taking out the stadium lights. I have to give the Illini baseball fans present a lot of credit, though. Given the cold and wet weather, most of them stayed during the 18 minute mid-game delay and some of them even sang songs to entertain themselves. Way to go, fans!

The delay didn’t seem to deter Illinois starter Kevin Johnson who pitched his way to his sixth win in style. He did give up five walks but otherwise spread out four hits in 7 2/3 innings to keep the Buckeyes to just one run. Illinois however, did score. Once the lights got turned back on again, so did the Illini offense  The good guys scored three runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh capped by Thomas Shelton’s first homer of the year. 

I mentioned oddities in Friday night’s game… how about this? Illinois reliever Anthony Milazzo came on to pitch with two outs in the eighth inning and finished the game by striking out five Buckeye batters in 1 1/3 innings  He was helped by an OSU batter reaching first safely on a dropped third strike in the ninth. Needless to say, Milazzo closed the game out just fine and Illinois won, 9-1. 

It was more of the same on Saturday but Illinois did have to make a comeback of sorts. While the Illini drew first blood with a run in the second, Ohio State came back with three runs against starter John Kravetz in the fourth. Kravetz held tough, though, and those were the only runs the Buckeyes would score all day. Meanwhile, the Illini had just gotten started. They picked away at the lead scoring one run each in the fourth and the fifth tying the game. In the sixth, Thomas Lindauer singled home a run and Willie Argo later singled home Lindauer giving Illinois a 5-3 lead. Just in case, Illinois put together a three-run rally in the eighth keyed by a Jordan Parr two-run base hit making the final score 8-3. 

Illinois’ luck finally ran out against the Buckeyes on Sunday. When Ohio State scored four runs in the third and five more in the fourth, the writing was pretty much on the wall. Illinois did attempt a comeback. They scored four runs by the sixth inning but in that inning, they left the bases loaded with potential runs. Final score: Ohio State 10, Illinois 4.

After a few conference weekends, it’s probably okay to look at the Big Ten baseball standings.  Illinois’ 5-7 conference mark looks a little better than last week’s 3-6 record but quite honestly, it didn’t move them up in the standings too much. It really shows how important these Big Ten conference games are. Had Illinois just won that last game on Sunday, they would be looking at a tie for fifth place (and ahead of Ohio State) instead of an eighth place tie with Iowa. 

If there is any consolation for Illinois fans, it is this… we’ve played three of the toughest Big Ten teams in the conference already (Purdue and Nebraska are especially good this year). We’ve “gotten them out of the way”. Now it’s time for the Illini to feast on what’s left.

Next Up

Speaking of, Illinois faces last place Northwestern this coming weekend. Every few years, the Wildcats from Evanston come through with a good baseball team but this year ain’t one of them. This year, they’re sharing last place with Michigan (that’s a totally different story that I totally don’t understand).

Now that said, Coach Hartleb’s boys don’t approach games in this cynical way, thankfully. Every game to them is a challenge. I know this because through the years, players remind me that Illinois has been beaten by every caliber of team so the team can’t take anything for granted. A good approach, I think.

Three games are on the schedule against the Wildcats.  Friday’s game is an afternoon affair at 3 p.m. in Evanston. 

Off-the-field News

If you’re looking for a fun game to go to this season, the Michigan State series has plenty of interesting opportunities. I’ve already mentioned the Camouflage Jersey Day in honor of Student Veterans on May 6. The camo jerseys will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. 

Friday, May 4th is also a great day to attend if you’re looking for food, fun and crowds. That’s the date of the annual Bleacher Bum BBQ Game! The first 2,000 fans get free food (and everybody get free admission, as always). Get there early! Gates open at 5 p.m. that day. Some of the Illini players made a rather humorous promo spot to get the word out.

See you at the ballpark!!


Read more of Thomas Nelshoppen’s Illinois baseball coverage at Illinois Baseball Report.

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