Illini Baseball beat Wildcats, snatch first Big Ten series this year

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team captured its first Big Ten series win of the season this past weekend.

Behind strong pitching, the Illini went 3-1 against the Northwestern Wildcats.

The Illini defeated Northwestern in the first three games of the series 6-2, 1-0 and 8-7 at Rocky Miller Park in Evanston, Ill., but were unable to complete the sweep in the finale, blowing a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning and falling 6-5 in 10 innings.

“It’s always good to win a Big Ten series on the road,” senior first baseman Mike Rohde said.

“It felt good to take the first three games, but when it comes down to it at the end of the season, each win and loss is huge in the Big Ten – so to lose the last game is disappointing,” Rohde said.

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Illinois sophomore starting pitchers Tanner Roark and Mike Stankiewicz threw two gems on the hill in the first two games of the series.

Roark had a career day on the mound Friday. The Illini right-hander pitched a career-long seven innings and struck out a career-high nine batters to earn his third win of the season.

Roark allowed just two runs on eight hits on the mound and was backed by freshman outfielder Nick Stockwell’s 4-for-4, three RBIs day as Illinois jumped back in the win column after having lost its last two contests coming into the series.

Stankiewicz outperformed Roark in game one of the Illini’s doubleheader on Saturday.

The Des Plaines, Ill., native threw a complete-game one-hitter and outdueled Northwestern pitcher Ryan Myers to earn a 1-0 win. Rohde’s RBI single in the sixth inning turned out to be the game-winning run as Stankiewicz shut down the Wildcats en route to his third victory of the season

“We were really able to set the tone for the weekend,” Stankiewicz said. “Obviously we were disappointed with our loss in the final game, but we still did a lot of things well this weekend and did things that we can build off of in the coming weeks.”

The Illini used a six-run sixth inning to come back and beat the Wildcats 8-7 in game two of the doubleheader, capturing their first Big Ten series win of the season.

Leading 5-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Sunday’s series finale, Illinois looked to be on its way to its first sweep in a Big Ten series since 2005.

But three straight singles by the Wildcats followed by an error by Illini freshman third baseman Brandon Wikoff allowed Northwestern to send the game into extra innings.

The Wildcats got three more singles in the bottom of the 10th inning against Illini senior relief pitcher Brain Long, including the game-winning single by junior outfielder Antonio Mule with two outs to seal the victory.

“We just didn’t close out the game,” head coach Dan Hartleb said.

“We couldn’t close the door on the mound and then we made a crucial error that hurt us. We had an opportunity to sweep the series and just didn’t get it done and let it slip away,” Hartleb said.

Illini senior right fielder Ryan Snowden set the Illini record for the longest hit-streak in school history, extending it to 25 games on Saturday before having it end in Sunday’s finale.