Eight-run comeback leads Illini baseball to Big Ten tourney appearance



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team’s season looked to be over.

The Illini trailed Michigan State 7-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning and Ohio State had just beaten Penn State earlier in the day, meaning Illinois needed to win advance to the postseason.

But then something clicked.

The Illini found the spark they needed off the bat of freshman outfielder Nick Stockwell, whose two-out three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning began a streak of eight unanswered runs against the Spartans over the next three innings, giving the Illini an 8-7 win and propelling them to the Big Ten Tournament.

“We had our backs against the wall and we just never quit,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I’ve said before that the one thing we’ll never do is quit, and we didn’t today. It’s an awesome win for us.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Junior catcher Lars Davis provided the Illini with two of the biggest home runs of his Illini career in the sixth and seventh innings. Davis’ solo home run in the sixth inning pulled the Illini to within 7-4, and then his two-out, two-run home run in the seventh inning gave the Illini their first lead against Michigan State since Friday night’s win.

With his two home runs, the Canadian born catcher finished the regular season with a Big Ten leading 13 home runs. Davis’ .416 batting average this season made him the 21st Illini player in history to finish with over a .400 batting average.

“Lars’ home runs are bitter sweet for us because those are probably going to be his last home runs here because there’s no doubt he’s going to get himself drafted,” Hartleb said.

The Illini held on to the one-run lead behind senior relief pitcher Jake Toohey, who along with his fellow seniors was honored prior to the game Sunday to celebrate their final game at Illinois Field.

Toohey came into the ball game with two outs in the fifth inning with Illinois trailing 7-0 and shut a Spartan offense that had scored 29 runs and hit 11 home runs in their last 19 innings. The Illini closer finished the game with three strike outs and no runs scored to earn his second win of the season.

“Jake did a great job in relief, and not just his pitching but his fielding too,” Hartleb said. “He came up with some big plays for us.”

With the win, the Illini finished the regular season at 30-25, 16-14 Big Ten, and in the process eliminated Michigan State from advancing to the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini will be the No. 5 seed at the Big Ten Tournament that starts Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“You fall behind one, two, three runs, but when it’s seven runs, you just never know,” Hartleb said. “But we found a way to keep pecking away and pecking away. Now we have a chance to go into the tournament and make something happen.”