Phil Haig (left) and Aaron Johnson (center) were two of the stars during Illinois' series victory and pitching coach Ken Westray's (right) staff stole the spotlight on Friday and Sunday.
March 11, 2009
Hey Illini Fans,
So last weekend was a pretty good one. If you haven't heard, we went down to Baton Rouge to play the top-ranked LSU Tigers and came away with two wins in three games. The wins were two of the most exciting games I've seen in my four years here. The whole team came down to LSU expecting to win multiple games, and that's exactly what happened. We weren't intimidated by their No. 1 ranking or the 8,000-plus people at each game, but simply went out and played the kind of baseball we know we can play.
In the first game on Friday night, Phil Haig was outstanding in his seven innings of work. The game was tied at one when freshman lefty Corey Kimes came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth. All he did was strike out LSU's Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters on 12 pitches to keep the game tied and send it to the ninth, where Aaron Johnson blasted a two-run home run with two outs to put us on top 3-1. After that, it sure got quiet at Alex Box Stadium. Nick Chmielewski then came in to shut things down in the bottom of the ninth and did so by striking out the side to give us the win and end LSU's 25-game regular season winning streak.
Ben Reeser stole the show on Sunday. He had a three-hit shutout through eight innings and ended up working 8.2 innings and allowing just two runs. Chmielewski came in and fanned the last batter of the game, giving us the series win and sending us back to Champaign with a 7-2 record. The two wins really were complete team victories. The pitching was outstanding, the hitters got the job done and the defense was solid. Those things all have to happen to beat a team like LSU, and they all happened last weekend. Johnson and Reeser won Big Ten Co-Player and Pitcher of The Week for their efforts last weekend.
One of the other exciting things from the weekend, and I think I speak for the whole team here, was the trip home from the ballpark each day. Because of the traffic around the stadium as the game let out, we had a police escort to our hotel after each game. I have never been a part of something like this before, but it was pretty exciting to weave in and out of traffic and drive on the wrong side of the road legally! And let me tell you, it was even sweeter on Friday and Sunday as we drove past LSU fans leaving the stadium and made them pull over to the side of the road after we won the games.
This weekend we are at home for a four-game series against Akron. We have a great opportunity to build on the momentum we got last weekend. It will also be nice to play in front of the Illini Faithful for the first time this season. I hope to see a lot of people out at the ballpark this weekend to see the squad in action.