Illinois baseball completed their first series of the 2022 season, and they managed to come away with a victory.
In the three-game series, the Illini dropped the first two games to Kansas but did manage to clip the Jayhawks in game three. If I had two words to describe the series, it would be a roller coaster.
I was most worried about pitching coming into the season. Illinois was looking solid through seven innings in game one against Kansas, though. Illini ace Cole Kirschsieper was in line for the win after going seven strong innings of three-hit baseball. He only gave up one earned run as well.
Heading into the eighth inning, Illinois had a 2-1 lead, both runs being unearned due to two Kansas errors. But the Jayhawks would get to the Illini bullpen. Illinois’ relievers threw two innings of action and give up two hits, four walks, and three earned runs. Kansas would snag game one, 4-2.
Game two wasn’t close, and it is one of those games where most things went wrong. Illinois’ lone run came via a solo home run by Jacob Campbell. Starting pitcher Jack Wenninger gave up five earned runs in 1.1 innings. He also walked four batters.
The Illini bullpen once again struggled. They gave up a combined 10 hits, three walks, and six earned runs on the day. It was kind of a disappointing first start for Wenninger considering he was a star transfer from Murray State this season. I look for him to rebound well in the coming weeks, though.
After a 12-1 blowout in favor of Kansas, Illinois would settle down in the final game of the series. The lineup started to get to the Jayhawks, as eight different Illinois batters had a hit in the game. Kellen Sarver was the star of the show going 3-for-5 on the day with a double, a home run, and two runs batted in.
I was really impressed with the pitching of Payton Hutchings. He went six solid innings of one-run baseball. He would only walk one batter the entire game as well. Illinois’ bullpen also got going and failed to give up a hit in three innings of work.
The Illini would win game three, 7-1. The series finished 2-1 in favor of Kansas, but Illinois might have found something in game three. It is still pretty early, and Dan Hartleb is still working out the kinks. Give this team time.
What is next for the Illinois baseball team?
- Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders – Friday, February 25
Illinois heads to the east coast for three big matchups this weekend. It all starts with Middle Tennessee on Friday in Conway, South Carolina.
The Blue Raiders have started the season a little rough going 1-3 in their first four games. This is on the heels of a season where they finished under .500. I look for Illinois to continue building momentum in this game. It is an opportunity for the Illini to figure some things out with the bullpen as well.
- Coastal Carolina Chanticleers – Saturday, February 26
This is probably going to be the biggest test for Illinois in the nonconference. Kansas was good, but Coastal Carolina has been a pretty steady program the last few seasons.
The Chanticleers are 3-1 through four games this season. Their only loss came in a 2-1 pitcher’s duel against Kent State. I think this could be a tough one for the Illini.
- North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks – Sunday, February 27
Illinois then finishes the weekend with another tough game. UNC Wilmington has started hot this season going 4-0 and sweeping both of their series against St. John’s and Middle Tennessee.
The big worry about the Seahawks is their hitting. They are averaging eight runs per game right now, and with an unstable bullpen, Illinois is going to have a tough fight on our hands.