Illinois tops LSU to take the series

Illinois pitcher Ben Reeser was all smiles Sunday afternoon, wearing a grin from ear to ear as he fielded questions from reporters. The senior carried his team to a 6-2 victory behind nearly nine innings of shut out work from the hill, leaving the Tigers to pick up the pieces after dropping their first series of the season.

LSU managed no more than four batters per frame through seven innings of work on Sunday, a stat that head coach Paul Mainieri said is a reflection upon Reeser's near flawless performance on the mound.


"[Reeser] was really phenomenal out there," he said. "He threw his changeup about 75 percent of the time, and that was what really did it for him. Quite frankly they outplayed us, and they deserved to win."


Reeser finished his night in the ninth inning, reaching two outs before giving up a pair of runs on two hits.


Walking off the field to a standing ovation from the LSU crowd, the Illini pitcher's line closed at six hits, two earned runs, four walks and a career high nine strikeouts on 133 pitches over 8.2 innings of work.


"I had three pitches going for me, and early on I was locating them really well. I have to give credit to my team, because a lot of my outs came because of solid defense behind me. We kept the hitters down and didn't allow them to see a lot of pitches," Reeser said.


"I noticed that a lot of the guys that we threw this weekend were not working their changeup, so that is the reason I wanted to mix it in a good bit. I wish I could have gone the whole way, and I asked myself right away why I threw that slider to [Haydel], but I am happy with my performance. It was a great win for us."


D. J. LeMahieu, whose .526 average tabs him as the hottest Tiger from the plate, said that Reeser's performance was a testament to good scouting.


"He knew to bring the changeup on us, and he brought a really good slurve pitch," he said. "He kept the ball low and, despite the wind, was able to keep everything in play. He had both the left and right handed batters off balance, so you have to give him all the credit."


The third inning started the scoring for the Illini, seeing Josh Parr reach base on a full count single to the shortstop. Parr then advanced from first to third on a throwing error by LSU starting pitcher Austin Ross.


Parr would score on centerfielder Joe Bonadonna's single, which also resulted in an error by the Tigers, this time by way of an errant throw on the out attempt from shortstop D.J. LeMahieu.


Casey McMurray would follow Bonadonna's single with one of his own, scoring the Illini leadoff man from second. The visitors would close the inning with a pair of runs on three hits and two Tiger errors.


McMurray would strike again in the fifth on a single off of Ross to left center, which scored Bonadonna from second.


Matty Ott would step in for Ross (2-1) in the seventh, seeing the Shreveport-native take to the locker room after going five innings of work on 84 pitches. The sophomore's closing line was six hits, three runs, two earned, and four strikeouts.


Ott got into hot water quickly, seeing catcher Aaron Johnson single up the middle on a 0-2 pitch. Matt Dittman followed with a single to left, putting two on with one out. Ott rebounded right away, getting Pete Cappetta to line out to right field and Willie Argo to strike out swinging, both going down on 2-2 pitches.


Ott would leave the game after he allowed a pair of hits and struck out four batters in two innings of work.


Paul Bertuccini stepped in for the freshman, but his stay on the mound would be short lived to say the least.


Wikoff doubled off of the right hander's first pitch, followed by another first pitch-double by Altobelli, which scored Wikoff from second. Johnson then singled up the middle, moving Altobelli to third. Dittman then walked on a full count pitch, loading the bases for Capetta.


Bertuccini walked Cappetta on four pitches, scoring Altobelli. The right hander was able to retire Argo on a 2-2 strikeout, yet hit Parr on the following pitch sequence, scoring Johnson.


Spencer Matthews relieved Bertuccini after the score, sitting the next two batters on a line out to short and a fly out to right. Bertuccini allowed three runs, all earned, on three hits and a pair of walks in a third of an inning of work.


The bottom of the eighth would see the Tigers reach five batters in a frame for the first time on the afternoon. Yet, LSU stranded two on one hit, putting Reeser over the 100 pitch mark in the process.


The senior looked to go the distance until he ran into trouble with two outs in the ninth. After grounding out Blake Dean and fanning Micah Gibbs, catcher Sean Ochinko drove a 1-2 pitch over the left field fence.


Chris McGhee, pinch hitting for Grant Dozar, then doubled down the line. Pinch hitting for Chad Jones, Buzzy Haydel followed McGhee with a double of his own, scoring the runner from the second.


That would be the end of the night for Reeser, who moved to 2-0 on the season.


Dean, who went hitless on the afternoon, remains ice cold from the plate, seeing his average drop to .268 on the season.


"That is a little bit of a concern for me," Mainieri said. "He is in his first year of draft eligibility and the expectations are high, so Blake has a lot of pressure on him to succeed. This is a tough game to play though, so I am going to sit him down and have a talk with him tomorrow.


"He just needs to relax and enjoy the game. We need him to hit well, because it is evident that we are not the same team when he and Gibbs are not hitting well in the middle of the lineup."


Heading into a week that holds a road test at Southeastern before playing host to Louisiana-Lafayette, Mainieri said that the quick turnaround should play to the team's advantage.


"No use in sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves," he said. "We need to just get a good night rest tonight and get up ready to go tomorrow. Nobody likes to lose, but every time you do it provides a character test to your team. It shows that we are not invincible, and I remind them of that all of the time."


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