The Leathernecks opened their 2021 baseball season with a tough test this past weekend, as they went to Kentucky to take on the Louisville Cardinals. Louisville came into this weekend as the No. 4 team in the nation, also being a program with a lot of history. They have sent really good players to the next level, like Adam Duvall who plays for the Marlins and Will Smith on the Dodgers. So, there was no question that Dan McDonnell and his squad would be ready. They showed that by taking the three-game series from the Leathernecks. But this should not distract you that this was a great weekend for the Leathernecks.
The first game started at noon on Friday. The Cardinals turned to LHP Michael Prosecky, while the Leathernecks had freshman RHP Brett Sears on the bump. The game started off pretty quick for the Leathernecks, as they had the bases loaded with no outs in the top of the first, but could not get any runs across. In the second inning, second baseman Dillon Sears grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Derek Botaletto to give the Leathernecks a 1-0 lead. In the fourth inning, right fielder Kevin Raisbeck struck out on a dropped third strike, but reached first and scored another run. Designated hitter Trenton Bauer then singled to score another run to push the Leathernecks’ lead to 3-0. Louisville struck right back in the bottom half of the 4th however, when secondbaseman Tim Borden grounded into a fielder’s choice, and left fielder Trey Leonard doubled to tie the game right back up at 3-3. In the top of the 5th, the Leathernecks took the lead right back, when freshman Derek Botaletto reached on a fielding error, which led to two more runs in the inning. The Leathernecks would not look back as they closed out the first game of the series with a win of 8-3. Brett Sears got credited with the win, while pitcher Tate Kuehner was credited with the loss. Brian Raymond got the save for the Leathernecks.
This was Western Illinois’ first win since May 18, 2019, dating back nearly two years. This was also the first career win for head coach Andy Pascoe. This was a great start to the season for the Leathernecks, especially after the season they had last year. The standout player in this big win was undoubtedly freshman Derek Botaletto, who had four hits in five at bats in his college debut.
The Leathernecks played the final two games of the series in a doubleheader. The Leathernecks started Jace Warkentien while Louisville pitched Michael Kirian. The Cardinals struck early, when second baseman Cooper Bowman hit a sac fly to put Louisville up 1-0. There was then no scoring until the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Cardinals scored on a balk to make it 2-0. The next inning, the Cardinals started to show the pop in their bats when third baseman Lucas Dunn launched a home run over the left field wall to make it 3-0. The Leathernecks showed some fight in the eighth when Alex Dorethy singled down the right field line to make it a 3-1 game. But, the comeback was not enough as Louisville took the second game of the series 4-1.
Louisville wasted no time putting the game out of hand, making their lead 7-0 by the bottom of the fourth, and after the sixth there was no more scoring as the Cardinals went on to win 9-4 and win the series. The win went to Louisville starter Luke Smith, while WIU starter Chandler Fochs was handed the loss.
Although the Leathernecks lost this series, there were a lot of positives that came out of this weekend. Western Illinois showed that they can compete with anyone when they can compete with top talent. We also saw the emergence of freshman shortstop Derek Botaletto and catcher Jayden Gibson, who threw out a couple of batters trying to steal and also getting a few clutch hits. The Leathernecks will now travel down to Carbondale for a single game showdown with the Southern Illinois Salukis. Then after that, travel to the University of Evansville to take on the Aces in Evansville, Ind.