Career day for Long propels baseball to series sweep

By Jason Grodsky

Illinois senior relief pitcher Brian Long had a career day on the mound for the Illinois baseball team on Sunday, leading the Illini to a 7-2 victory over Indiana and its first Big Ten series sweep in nearly two years.

Long pitched a career-long five innings in relief of Illini freshman starting pitcher Kevin Manson. The right-hander came into the game in the fourth inning with a 3-2 lead and allowed no runs on just one hit.

The lone hit Long gave up was the only ball he allowed out of the infield, and 12-of-15 outs came via ground ball outs. The other three outs were a soft line drive to shortstop, a pop out to first base and a strike out.

“I felt confident and was able to put the ball where I wanted all game,” Long said. “I was pounding the ball down in the zone and letting my fielders play behind me and they did a great job. It was an overall great outing for me.”

While a one-run lead was more than enough run support for Long on the day, the Illini were able to push across three runs in the fifth inning and a run in the sixth to give the Illini a 7-2 lead.

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Senior relief pitcher Omar Kadir came in to finish the game in the ninth inning and sent the Hoosiers home packing with a perfect 1-2-3 frame.

Kadir was just the seventh pitcher to pitch for the Illini in their four game series with Indiana, as the Illini pitching staff turned in arguably its best weekend performance of the season.

In four games the Illini pitchers allowed just five earned runs and owned a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

“Our pitching was great this weekend and it put us in a great position to get into the tournament,” junior catcher Lars Davis said. “Our pitchers really settled down this week and I think the week off really helped them because they all came out fresh and ready to go.”

Illinois’ first sweep since May 6-8, 2005 against Northwestern couldn’t have come at a better time for the Illini (28-22, 14-12 Big Ten) as they maintained their 1 « game lead for the sixth and final spot in the Big Ten Tournament over Michigan State, who also swept its series this weekend.

Both teams’ sweeps set up next weekend’s showdown between the Spartans and the Illini at Illinois field. The Illini will just have to split the four-game series with the Spartans to earn the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

“Everything is in our own hands,” Long said. “We control where we are going to end up. (Michigan State) is going to come ready to play and it’s going to be a good weekend.”