Redbirds Take Down #2 Arkansas in Season Opener
Written by Mikey Fornelli on February 18, 2022
Image courtesy of Illinois State athletics
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.- 1-0 to start the season is good, but 1-0 to start the season against the second-best team in the country is great.
The Illinois State Redbirds baseball team led off their season with a bang Friday afternoon, going to Fayetteville and taking down the #2 Arkansas by a score of 3-2. Illinois State is the first team to defeat the Razorbacks in their home opener since 1994.
A strong team of pitchers led the way by shutting out the Razorbacks in all but one inning, allowing the Redbirds to win with only three runs- two of which came in the first inning. Redbird Head Coach Steve Holm knows there are improvements to be made, but is proud of his team.
“We lined out twice in that inning, I thought we could have really put a crooked lead on the scoreboard. Credit to them [Arkansas], they really hung in there…Obviously, big win. We played well with pitching and defense. That’s as good as you’re going to start.”
The first inning Redbird runs came in the form of a Ryan Cermak RBI single, and a bases-loaded balk by Arkansas’ starting pitcher Connor Noland. After going perfect against the first three batters he saw this season in the bottom of the first, Redbird starter Jordan Lussier fell over after taking a ball off the head on a hit that came right back to the mound. Although Lussier got up on his own power and tried to remain in the game, he was pulled out for concussion protocol. Holm stated after the game his gratitude for the Arkansas doctors, who checked Lussier out and do not believe he has a concussion at this time. He is proud of how his team did not give up following the scary moment for their teammate.
“The biggest thing was how we were able to handle ourselves after starting pitcher got hit in the head,” Holm said. “We did not panic. Being able to regroup (following Lussier exiting the game), is a sign of an older club. Huge innings by Colin Wyman.”
Following Lussier’s exit, Colin Wyman put together multiple productive innings. Although he only had one strikeout, Wyman forced the Razorback batters into ground outs and relied on strong defense from teammates Jake McCaw and Kyle Soberano.
Wyman’s exit came in the bottom of the fifth when Arkansas tied it with two solo home runs- first by Jalen Battles, and then by Zack Gregory. Josh Hart came in in relief in the sixth, tossing two scoreless innings with three strikeouts.
The Redbirds got their winning run off the bat of Aiden Huggins in the top of the seventh, scoring the speedy Soberano all the way from first to home. Although the Redbirds failed to score with three collective baserunners on in the eighth and ninth, they kept their lead from more lights-out pitching. Kolt Scherbenske and Erik Kubiatowicz closed out the win in the final two innings, including two straight strikeouts to win in the ninth by Kubiatowicz.
The Redbirds open their season 1-0, and will have a chance to extend their season-opening winning streak again at Arkansas on Saturday and Sunday. If Friday’s upset victory is any indication, the Redbirds are a force to be reckoned with this season- no matter how high-ranked their opponent may be.