Baseball sweeps doubleheader to earn series split with Michigan

Aaron Martin pitches the ball in the third inning in a game against Greensville. The pitching that night led Illinois to a 16-1 victory. Beck Diefenbach

Aaron Martin pitches the ball in the third inning in a game against Greensville. The pitching that night led Illinois to a 16-1 victory. Beck Diefenbach

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team became just the second team in the Big Ten and the eighth team overall to defeat Michigan this season.

The Illini (24-22, 10-12 Big Ten) swept Saturday’s doubleheader against the Wolverines behind strong pitching to earn a series split with the Big Ten leader.

Sophomore pitcher Mike Stankiewicz and senior pitcher Jake Toohey combined to lead the Illini to a 7-4 eight-inning win in the first game of the doubleheader and sophomore Scott Shaw threw a complete game in the nightcap to ensure the Illini a split with the No. 13-ranked Wolverines.

“I thought we pitched very well in the first three games,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Overall we were much improved on the mound against a very good hitting team.”

Illinois got another good pitching performance from sophomore Tanner Roark in the series opener Friday, but the offense was held to just three hits in 4-3 loss that handed the Illini its first Big Ten series opening game loss of the season.

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The Illini bounced back on Saturday, jumping out to a 4-1 lead with help from senior first baseman Mike Rohde’s two-run home run in the third inning. Michigan, however, came back to score a run in the sixth and then two runs in the bottom of the seventh to even the score and send the game into extra innings.

Illinois recaptured the lead with a three-run eighth inning on RBI singles by senior shortstop Shawn Roof and sophomore outfielder Kyle Hudson, and an RBI double by senior outfielder Ryan Snowden. Toohey then shut the door on the Wolverines in the bottom half of the inning to earn his first win of the season.

“It was a great momentum shift for us to come back after they tied it with two outs,” Rohde said. “It was huge because we were then able to carry the momentum into the second game.”

In game two on Saturday the Illini broke loose for five runs in the first inning, capped off by junior second baseman Ryan Hastings fifth home run of the season.

Fellow junior Daniel Webb followed Hastings lead with a home run of his own in the third inning to give Illinois a 6-0 lead.

With a six-run lead, Shaw took over. The right-hander allowed just three runs and six hits in his complete game to earn his fourth victory of the season.

“(Saturday) was a good day all around for us as a pitching staff,” Shaw said. “Mike went out and set the tone in the first game and then it was easy to carry the momentum into the second game. I was really proud of the way the bullpen pitched as well.”

Kevin Manson made the first Big Ten start of his career for the Illini in the series finale on Sunday, but the freshman pitcher couldn’t overcome the Wolverine bats, who put up a four spot in the third inning to propel them to a 10-5 win.

With the split, the Illini furthered the gap between them and Purdue for sixth place in the Big Ten and the final spot of the Big Ten tournament.

“We showed ourselves we can compete with top teams,” Rohde said. “We were only a couple of plays from winning three-out-of-four and that gives us the confidence that we can go out and play and beat anybody in the Big Ten going into the tournament.”