By Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him at @ColeSheeks
The last series victory that the EC baseball team had captured against Illinois Wesleyan University came in 2011, back when planking was all the rage, Rebecca Black was at the top of the music charts, and Charlie Sheen was #Winning.
That fact changed over the weekend, when the Bluejays, led by a run-per-inning offensive pace, defeated the Titans 9-7 in a back-and-forth affair on March 31.
“We’ve been having good at bats all week against these guys,” said EC right fielder Tyler Kledzik. “They had a pitcher last night that kinda shut us down, but the first game we scored a lot of runs too. So we just stuck with the same approach and it worked out for us.”
Kledzik has been swinging a hot bat in the early goings this season, leading the Bluejays with a .457 on-base percentage and 21 runs batted in after he added another RBI knock to the collection against IWU, driving in a pair with a second inning single.
The left-handed hitting sophomore credits his success to a consistent approach with his preparation, and after the teams latest victory Kledzik explained that his quick start is a result of, “just taking swings when I get home, off the tee, things like that. Anything I can do to make myself better.”
But Kledzik was not the only Bluejay hitter who had a productive day at the plate, as Christian Ott, Jacob McMillan and Matt Wilson all added extra base hits, Karson Thomas plated three runs, and Reagan McReynolds had a pair of hits in addition to a stolen base.
The Bluejays used that offensive output to jump ahead early on in this contest with a five run second inning, eventually building an 8-3 lead heading into the seventh frame.
Bluejays starter, freshman righty Carter Truong, went 4.1 innings while allowing two earned runs, striking out three, and walking six.
Sophomore right-hander Kevin Johlie earned the win for EC, throwing 2.2 innings in relief with one strikeout and no free passes, which he felt was the key to his success.
“Just throw strikes,” said Johlie, citing these words as a mantra. “When I struggle it’s because I’m not in the strike zone, but when I stay in the strike zone I do pretty well, and that’s just the key I think. I don’t really care if they hit me, but a walks a free base and I don’t want that to happen.”
Johlie recognized that he was not going to overpower batters with his fastball, rather opting to focus on an offspeed approach.
“I was throwing a lot of sliders and a lot of splitters, just to keep them off balance,” said Johlie. “They’re a good fastball hitters, everybody in this conference is. That’s a really good team, you just gotta keep them off balance and all my pitches were feeling pretty good today.”
While all-conference games matter equally in the standings, the significance of claiming the season series over the Titans is not lost on this EC squad.
“That’s awesome,” said Kledzik. “A team like Wesleyan that we know is gonna be good, that we’re gonna need to compete against, taking two wins from them was definitely big.”
Johlie agreed with his teammate, while specifically referencing the fact that this win was overdue for the Bluejays.
“It’s big because, Wesleyan, we haven’t beaten them in a while, in a full series and it’s huge for the seniors because they’ve never beaten them,” said Johlie. “They are always a top team, so that just shows what we are.”
The Bluejays (12-6, 3-2 CCIW) will try to keep the good times rolling as they hit the road for three games to face CCIW foes. They will travel north to play at Carthage College on April 3 and then retreat south to Millikin University on April 7 and 8 before heading home to play a doubleheader against Carroll University at Butterfield Park on April 10.