Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest game this year, but what’s most important is that the game is played at all.
The annual Horenberger-Bass Classic, a cross-town rivalry between Illinois Wesleyan University (NCAA D3) and Illinois State University (NCAA D1), saw a nice crowd and pleasant although slightly cool evening even if the final score showed the widest margin of victory since the two teams renewed their rivalry in 2004.
With last year’s game losing out to a rain storm, Illinois State made up for lost time and jumped on top early,
leading by a 7-0 count through the first seven and a half innings. During that time, the Redbirds looked every bit the team that is currently leading the Missouri Valley Conference.
But a four run rally by the home team in the bottom of the eighth gave Illinois Wesleyan fans hope, only to see the Titans surrender five runs in the top of the 9th for the final 12-4 outcome.
The two teams used a total of 15 pitchers on the night, with the Redbirds marching a new hurler to the mound every inning, and the Titans making changes as game situations dictated. Not to mislead, State used the game to tune up their pitching in advance of a key series this weekend at home against MVC second place Wichita State, while Wesleyan will need their arms again Thursday when they host Concordia-Chicago before a CCIW three-game set with Elmhurst this weekend.
I’ve seen better teams at Illinois Wesleyan in the past, although this team still has a chance for a late season rally and assault on post-season play. As a fan, I’m hoping they peak at the right time.
Likewise, I’ve seen much worse Illinois State teams take the field, and left the ballpark impressed with how the Redbirds play defense and swing the bat. Currently seven games over .500 in the Missouri Valley for the first time in history, the ‘Birds have clearly put a competitive team on the field under first year head coach Mark Kingston. It’s difficult to get a read on pitching when their core staff is throwing one inning at a time, but they did throw shutouts in eight of the nine innings.
One player I definitely left the park impressed with was Redbird sophomore second baseman Kevin Tokarski, who had two hits in four tries along with four runs batted in. Tokarski was ranked second in the nation in hitting through the April 18th games, and sits at .455 after last night’s performance.
Named to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List, Tokarski was the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year in 2008 before sitting out all but four games in 2009 with a wrist injury.
He also turned in several strong defensive plays and is definitely somebody to watch in the future.
This year’s matchup might not have been the most competitive, but it gave a lot of fans a reason to go to the ballpark. And through sponsorship by Commerce Bank, admission was free.
With Illinois Wesleyan hosting this year’s game, the first ball(s) was thrown out by the grandson’s of Jack Horenberger (Jack and Steve Ehretsman – photo above) in honor of the long-time Titan coach.
About the Series
Illinois State leads the Classic 4-2, and all-time series 83-70
2010 Illinois State 12, Illinois Wesleyan 4 (at Wesleyan)
2008 Illinois State 7, Illinois Wesleyan 4 (at Wesleyan)
2007 Illinois Wesleyan 3, Illinois State 2 (at State)
2006 Illinois State 8, Illinois Wesleyan 2 (at Wesleyan)
2005 Illinois State 7, Illinois Wesleyan 6 (at State)
2004 Illinois Wesleyan 9, Illinois State 5 (at Wesleyan)
About Jack Horenberger
Through 37 years, Horenberger posted a record of 509-401-5 (.559) as coach of the Illinois Wesleyan baseball program from 1942-81. He also served as athletic director at Illinois Wesleyan for many years.
About Duffy Bass
Bass led Illinois State to a College Division (now NCAA Division II) national championship in 1969, and compiled a 713-457-18 record from 1964-88. The 1969 team is the only team at Illinois State to win a national crown in any sport.