Baseball splits two with OSU



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team had to wait a few days before being able to host its first Big Ten series of the season, but when the Illini finally took the field against the No. 25-ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State, they picked up their first win over a ranked opponent in nearly a year.

Cold temperatures in Champaign prevented Illinois and Ohio State from playing the first two games of a four-game series over the weekend, forcing the two teams to play a doubleheader in chilly conditions on Sunday at Illinois Field.

But the cold weather couldn’t keep the Illini down as they earned a split with the Buckeyes, winning 8-5 in game one and falling 10-7 in game two.

“Our guys did a great job of handling the distractions of having the games canceled and not knowing what was going to happen from day-to-day,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We were able to come out sharp and I was pleased with the way we responded on the field.”

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Even though the wind chill temperature was just 31 degrees, the Illini came out hot in the first game of the twin bill, jumping out to an early 5-0 lead in the first three innings.

However, the Buckeyes wouldn’t go down without a fight. Ohio State rallied for five straight runs to tie the game at 5-5 going into the seventh inning.

Illinois broke the stalemate in the eighth inning with a little help from Ohio State pitcher Eric Best.

The freshman left-hander loaded the bases and then hit Illini senior left fielder Ryan Snowden and walked freshman third baseman Brandon Wikoff to give Illinois a 7-5 lead.

Senior catcher Lars Davis added a sacrifice fly to tack on another insurance run for the Illini before giving way to Illini senior relief pitcher Jake Toohey in the top of the ninth inning.

Toohey sent the Buckeyes down in order in the ninth to earn his second save of the season and give Illinois its first win over a ranked opponent since they beat the Buckeyes 8-6 on April 9, 2006 in Columbus, Ohio.

“They are a tough team and they kept coming after us but we weren’t going to give up,” freshman right fielder Nick Stockwell said. “We were relentless and able to pull together to get three runs after we gave up the lead.”

In game two the Buckeyes showed why they are best hitting team in the Big Ten, scoring five runs on seven hits in the first two innings and chasing Illinois sophomore starting pitcher Scott Shaw out of the game after just one and two-thirds innings pitched.

Illinois responded with three runs on five singles in the bottom of the second and added a run in the third on Stockwell’s second single and third RBI of the game to pull within one run.

Ohio State broke the game open in the fourth inning following a controversial collision between Hastings and Buckeye senior outfielder Jacob Howell in between first and second base on a bunt by Ohio State junior center fielder Matt Angle that was not ruled runner interference and allowed Ohio State to load the bases.

The Buckeyes went on to score three times following the incident and ran their lead to 8-4.

“It was a freak accident and I just never saw him coming and it’s just one of those things that happens on a baseball field,” Hastings said. “It kind of took a little steam out of our momentum and ended up being a turning point in the game.”

Illinois got a run back in the bottom of the fourth and two more runs in the sixth inning but Ohio State scored two in the seventh to put the game out of reach and earn a 10-7 win and a split with the Illini.

Hastings and Stockwell did the majority of the damage for the Illini, combining for nine hits, six runs and five RBIs in the two games.

Senior shortstop Shawn Roof also set the Illini record for being hit by pitch in a single game, getting hit in all four of his at bats.

“We played well but we want to get in a situation where we’re up and can put teams away and get to the top of the Big Ten standings and not be stuck in the middle like we have been,” Hartleb said. “Hopefully we can progress in that area and pull out more wins as the season goes on.”