CHAMPAIGN — Placing runners on base at a dizzying rate over the initial four innings Tuesday, the Illinois State baseball team nevertheless scored runs at a demoralizing rate.
Milking a mere two runs out of 11 early baserunners, the Redbirds missed their chance.
When ISU pitchers issued free passes, the University of Illinois did not.
The Fighting Illini’s final three runs reached on a walk and two hit-by-pitches as Illinois claimed a 4-2 nonconference victory at Illinois Field.
“It wasn’t our day offensively. We needed that one big hit. We left too many guys on base in the early going,” Redbird coach Bo Durkac. “But I would rather lose this game 4-2 than win 10-8. You can’t expect to win many games in a season giving up eight.”
Nationally ranked earlier this season, Illinois advanced to 20-8 with its sixth straight win over ISU (11-16).
The Redbirds broke on top in the second.
Joe Aeilts struck out but reached on a third-strike wild pitch. Singles from Joe Butler and Bryce Grimm loaded the bases before John Rave’s line drive to right field was caught but brought home Aeilts.
Planning a bullpen day, Durkac gave Kyle Pauly his first start of the season. Pauly breezed through the first five Illini batters before a single, a walk and RBI singles from Jeff Korte and Grant Van Scoy handed Illinois a 2-1 edge.
ISU tied it in the third as Nick Zouras’ sacrifice fly knocked in Noah Sadler, but the Redbirds stranded two runners for the third consecutive inning.
That streak grew to four in the fourth. Zack Jones became Illinois’ third pitcher with runners on first and third and one out. On Jones’ first pitch, Sadler’s sharp ground ball was transformed into a 3-6-3 double play.
“If Rave’s ball is not right at (Jack) Yalowitz and if Sadler’s ball isn’t caught by (Bren) Spillane, those are bases-loaded doubles and it’s a 6-4 game,” Durkac said.
Jones (2-0) blanked ISU over 3⅔ innings and struck out three to get the win.
“He really did deserve the win,” said Illinois coach Dan Hartleb. “He got a crucial double play with the bases loaded and cruised through three more innings.”
The Illini capitalized in the fifth when Redbird hurler Connor Peplow (1-1) hit Van Scoy and Zac Taylor with his first two pitches. A Spillane infield hit drove in one run and Michael Massey’s sacrifice fly chased in a second.
Still, Durkac was pleased with a pitching staff that received scoreless innings from Jeff Lindgren, Colton Johnson, Jacob Gilmore, Michael Sebby and Trevor Cross.
“They didn’t bash the ball all over the yard. I don’t think they had a single extra-base hit,” said the Redbird coach. “I was very happy with the way we pitched, especially with the quantity of guys we ran out there.”
Aeilts, a product of Champaign Central High School, and Bryce Grimm each had two of ISU’s nine hits.
“It would have been nice,” Aeilts said of winning in his hometown. “It was tough. We couldn’t get the big hit, but we played pretty solid. Just take the positives from it and move on.”