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Early deficits haunt baseball against Iowa

Illinois baseball entered this weekend’s series at Iowa expecting to put up plenty of runs.

But after a high-scoring victory Friday, Illinois mustered only six runs in back-to-back losses Saturday and Sunday.

“We usually score quite a few runs, and this weekend we were hitting balls pretty hard,” Illini outfielder Willie Argo said. “But we lined out a lot and popped out a lot, and everybody, including myself, started pressing a little bit and running at the ball.”

Illinois won Friday’s opener 9-8, although Iowa took a first inning lead behind an RBI single from senior catcher Ryan Durant.

The Illini answered with a four-run second, only to see Iowa get two back in the bottom of the inning behind a single from junior second baseman Zach McCool.

The score stayed at 4-3 until the fourth, when the Hawkeyes exploded for four more runs.

Illini senior Mike Giller singled in the top of the sixth to make the score 8-6, and junior outfielder Casey McMurray doubled in the eighth to draw the Illini within one.

“We had a lot of runs scored and it was a very tight game,” McMurray said. “They were up, we came back and then manage to hold them off late.”

McMurray and Giller scored on the next Illini at-bat courtesy of a Hawkeye fielding error, taking their first lead of the game at 9-8.

Sophomore right-hander Bryan Roberts, who pitched the final two innings, picked up his fourth save of the season.

“The first four or five innings of the weekend, we did not pitch well at all,” said Illini head coach Dan Hartleb. “But the rest of the weekend we threw pretty well.”

Iowa bounced back with a 6-4 victory Saturday.

The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first, notching four hits against Illini starter Kevin Johnson.

The freshman was charged with the loss after giving up four runs in six innings of action.

“You have to be ready to pitch from inning number one,” Hartleb said. “This weekend, we gave up a lot of runs in the first inning, and we weren’t always able to make it back.”

But Saturday, a three-run homer from Argo tied the score in the top of the third.

“I’m pretty sure I got down 0-2 in the count,” Argo said. “Then I fouled a couple pitches off and I got a fastball down there and got the barrel to it. I just got the barrel on it, and it barely went out of the park.”

Iowa regained the lead with two runs in the fifth, and an eighth inning single from shortstop Kurt Lee increased the Hawkeyes lead to 6-3.

McMurray said the Illini were pretty impressed with Iowa’s pitching staff.

“They had some good arms that they threw at us,” McMurray said. “They had a bunch of lefties that gave us some trouble.”

In Sunday’s finale, the Hawkeyes again took a 3-0 lead in the first, but a double from freshman DH Thomas Shelton keyed a two-run second inning for the Illini, who trailed 3-2 heading into the third.

Shelton, who was making his first career start, finished the game 2-for-3 with one RBI.

“I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to start,” Shelton said. “I just wish we could’ve played a little bit better and gotten the win.”

Illinois was unable to score again, falling 4-2 after the Hawkeyes tacked on one more run in the seventh.

“All weekend, we hit some balls that just went right at people,” McMurray said. “We had some things that didn’t go our way. But in the end we just have to tip our hats to them. They were a good team.”

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