Illini baseball prepared to make run at Big Ten Tournament

By Jason Grodsky

After making an extraordinary eight-run comeback in the final four innings of its last game of the regular season on Sunday against Michigan State, the Illinois baseball team is looking for its first postseason win in six years.

With their miraculous win on Sunday the Illini became the final team to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament and earned itself the No. 5 seed. Illinois will begin its postseason play on Wednesday at 11:05 a.m., taking on No. 4-seeded Iowa in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament.

Illinois’ last win in postseason play came back in 2001 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament against Purdue. Since then, the Illini are 0-6, including two losses at the 2005 Big Ten Tournament in which the Illini were the No. 1 seed after winning the Big Ten regular season championship.

This is the third straight year Illinois has managed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. The team will send sophomore pitcher Tanner Roark to the mound against the Hawkeyes in hopes of capturing its first postseason victory in six years.

Roark tied the school record for Big Ten wins in a season this year with six and established himself as the Illini’s ace of the pitching staff, going 7-2 on the year with a 4.74 ERA and a team-high 44 strikeouts.

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The right-hander was the only Illini pitcher to beat Iowa this season, defeating the Hawkeyes 6-2 on April 20 in a series in which the Illini pitchers gave up 37 runs in their final three games.

If the Illini defeat Iowa on Wednesday they would advance to play either No. 1-seeded Michigan or No. 2 seed Minnesota, depending on the winner of the game between No. 3 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State.

Senior pitcher earns Big Ten Pitcher of Week honors

In his final weekend of pitching in a regular season Big Ten series, Illinois fifth-year senior closer Jake Toohey earned the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor.

Toohey was named the pitcher of the week on Monday after earning a win in the Illini’s most crucial game of the season Sunday. Toohey held Michigan State scoreless in the final 4 1/3 innings in Sunday’s regular season finale, allowing the Illini to comeback from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Spartans 8-7 and advance to the Big Ten Tournament.

Toohey also picked up his seventh save of the Big Ten season on Friday in Illinois 6-5 win in the series opener, earning the right-hander a share of the school record for saves in a Big Ten season.

The Chicago native pitched a total of 7 2/3 innings in the final week of the regular season, including two scoreless innings of relief in the Illini’s 12-5 loss to No. 17-ranked Missouri on Tuesday. Toohey struck out a combined seven batters in his outings and allowed just one run on seven hits on the week to lower his ERA to a team best 3.03.

This is Toohey’s first award of his career and the second for an Illini pitcher this season. Sophomore starter Mike Stankiewicz was given the honor for his performance on the hill during the week of April 9-15.