ISU Baseball Weekend Recap: Birds win opening series with strong offensive performances
Written by Ben Hudy on February 19, 2023
Images courtesy of Illinois State Baseball
NORMAL, Ill. – The Illinois State baseball team traveled to Clarksville, Tennessee this weekend to play the Austin Peay Governors in their season opener. The Redbirds battled all weekend long and managed to take two of their first three to open up the season. The series was highlighted by strong performances from some new Redbirds, as well as some returning players.
Game One: The offense starts strong; Salata shines; Birds win 13-2.
The Birds managed to start the season with an all-around effort on offense, and great pitching performances on the mound. The Redbirds won the game 13-2 and everyone contributed to help lead to the win.
On the mound, senior pitcher Derek Salata got his season started on the right foot. Salata got the win for the Redbirds pitching four innings while striking out five and only surrendering one hit.
“Salata gave us a great start,” said ISU head coach Steve Holm. “He gave us that chance to relax the rest of the game.”
When Salata’s day was finished, ISU went to two relievers out of the bullpen. Two juniors, Jayson Hibbard and Eric Kubiatowicz finished the game for ISU only allowing two runs. Kubiatowicz finished the game pitching two innings, allowing zero hits as well as zero walks.
Offensively, ISU was clicking on all cylinders. The Redbirds got off to a fast start, driving in 4 runs in the first inning. From there on out it was all ISU with strong offensive performances highlighted by Noah Rabin, Greg Nichols and JT Sokolove.
The cleanup hitter, Noah Rabin, got off to a fast start in his first game with ISU. Rabin went 2-3 with three RBIs, both of his hits being doubles.
“One of the most fun games I had ever played,” said Rabin. “Great group of guys that gave me the opportunity to get those hits.”
The sophomore center fielder, JT Sokolove, got the power game going for ISU. Sokolove hit a rocket over the left field in the 4th inning for a solo home run. Sokolove has already matched his home run total from a year ago.
Nichols also had a nice game at the plate for ISU. Nichols went 3-5 while driving in one run.
Game Two: ISU bats struggle; freshman draws the start.
On Saturday, the script flipped as the Governors had a strong showing on the field. The Redbirds lost 9-1, forcing a rubber match on Sunday.
On the mound, Coach Holm gave the ball to a freshman, Tyrelle Chadwick. Chadwick started the game off strong but failed to finish the 4th inning after giving up four runs to the Governors. Chadwick left the game pitching 3.2 innings allowing four runs but also managed to strike out four.
Once Chadwick left the game, the Redbirds went to four other pitchers and they gave up five more runs out of the bullpen. Sophomore Ryan Weaver and freshman Thomas Harper looked solid in relief, giving up zero while combining for three strikeouts.
On the hitting side, the Governors’ pitching silenced the Redbird bats. The Redbird lineup struck out 17 times on 5 hits. The only run for ISU came in the 1st inning where transfer Shay Kubo hit an RBI single to drive in Nichols.
Game Three: Birds win a shootout in extra innings; open season with a series win.
On Sunday, both teams brought out their offensive attacks, forcing the game to be an extra-inning shootout. The Redbirds ended up winning 14-13 in ten innings, winning the first series of the season.
It took a while for ISU to get to the point that they did, but multiple Redbird players came up huge in leading to the win.
The Redbirds got off to a fast start in the first inning, where Kubo and Daniel Pacella both drove in runs making the game 3-0. The Governors immediately answered back with a home run by Lyle Miller-Green.
The game continued to be back and forth with both teams scoring at least one run in the first three innings. That was until the 4th inning when the Governors put up four runs to extend their lead to 10-5.
The Redbird bats went silent for two innings until they put up a four-spot of their own in the 6th inning. ISU drove in four runs off three straight doubles from Auggie Rassmussen, Luke Cheng, and Nichols.
ISU retook the lead in the top of the 7th after an Adrian Flores home run. Flores drew his first start of the season on Sunday in which he manned first base.
“I went down in the count, but then I saw a changeup right down the middle,” said Flores. “I wasn’t even trying to hit a home run, but then that happened.”
The Governors responded immediately putting up three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning and retaking the lead.
The score stayed 13-12 until the top of the 9th when ISU was down to their last three outs. Senior Connor Olson came into the game and drew a leadoff walk and was then taken out for a pinch runner, Shai Robinson. After a sack bunt and a wild pitch, Robinson was able to advance to third base.
Rassmussen drove in the game-tying run after a sacrifice fly to left field. Elijah Dale managed to escape the 9th inning with no damage and force extras.
To open up the 10th inning, Nichols opened it up with an absolute bang. Nichols hit a solo homer over a tall center-field wall to lead off extra innings.
“I was sticking to my approach and saw a fastball in,” said Nichols. “Kind of just got through and put the best swing on it that I could.”
Coach Holm ended up sending back out Elijah Dale for another inning of relief work. He managed to get the job done even with runners on first and second and slam the door on a Redbird win.
Dale ended up being one of the stars of the game on Sunday. Dale pitched 4 innings out of the bullpen striking out eight batters and coming away with the win. Dale got off to a rough start but ended up getting it together and leading the Redbirds to a win.
“That’s gutsy performance right there out of a guy we just picked up,” said Coach Holm about Dale. “There are a lot of great things coming for that guy.”
A great start to the season for the Redbirds. A lot of great performances across the board that could be a sign of things to come.
A great start for Nichols and Rabin who will look to anchor the Redbird offense in the three and four hole. Solid pitching performances by Salata, Kubiatowicz and Dale are huge early for a team that will be looking to find quality innings. Pacella also looks to be the player he was hyped up to be as he batted .300 over the weekend with 4 RBIs.
The Redbirds now stand at 2-1 on the season. Their next game will be on Tuesday at SIUE at 3 p.m.