Baseball struggles in opening series against Tennessee

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Western Illinois University baseball team opened up their 2020 schedule over the weekend against the Tennessee Volunteers of the very tough Southeastern Conference (SEC). Western fell 3-0 in the first game and 19-0 in the second.

It was head coach Andy Pascoe’s first game as the Leathernecks’ coach, and he was happy with the way his team competed the first time. “Today was exactly what you expect with two good pitchers going head-to-head on a Friday in college baseball,” Pascoe said in a postgame interview with WIU Athletics Communications.

“I am very happy with how we competed today, all around. Javin Drake and Chandler Fochs gave us strong efforts. Tennessee just made us pay with two home runs when we fell behind in the count. You have to credit their starter as he put pressure on our hitters by attacking the bottom of the zone from the start. We barreled up some balls that their guys made some good plays on too,” Pascoe said. Drake, the senior right-handed pitcher out of Wilton, Iowa, took the mound for game one. He limited the Vols to just two hits and two runs after five innings. He struck out the first two batters of the game to move into second all-time in strikeouts in Western’s history. Freshman catcher Jayden Gibson made his collegiate debut and also had both of Western’s two hits on the day. On top of that, he made a great play to throw a runner out at second in the bottom of the sixth.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Fochs came out of the bullpen to relieve Drake and he pitched three solid innings, holding Tennessee to just two hits and a run.

Junior pitcher Jace Warkenstien took the mound for game two and was holding the Vols down to two runs heading into the fifth inning. That’s when the game began to roll downhill.

UT loaded the bases to start the fifth and Warkenstien wasn’t able to get out of it, allowing six runs. This led to sophomore right-handed pitcher Parker Heidorf to come in relief, but he continued to struggle as well.

The Vols put up three more runs in the sixth, seven runs in the seventh and one more in the eighth for good measure as they steamrolled Western 19-0. After two disappointing shutout losses to begin the 2020 campaign, the Leathernecks took to game three. Junior right-handed pitcher Jack Carberry was put in but was quickly pulled after allowing eight runs in the second.

Freshman left-handed pitcher Johnny Beck came in for relief, allowing a run in the third and another in the fourth. As of the top of the fifth, Western was trailing Tennessee 11-0.

While these weren’t the results the team was looking for, they’ll have a long season to turn themselves around. It just so happens that they begin their season against one of, if not the toughest, teams on their schedule.

It was a good early test for the team and a great way to sort the small things out. They’ll have a week to regroup themselves before they travel down to Pearl, Miss. to take part in the Jackie Robinson Tournament.

Western will be taking on Southern University, Alcorn State University and Jackson State University. Game one of the tournament for the Leathernecks will be at 4 p.m. this Friday against Southern.