Penn State ends Illini’s season

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team came within six outs from advancing to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but the Illini weren’t able to hold on to a one run lead late against Penn State.

Leading 2-1, the No. 5-seeded Illini were once again done in by a big inning, giving up five runs in the eighth inning and falling 6-2 to the No. 3 Nittany Lions, ending their run in the Big Ten Tournament and their season.

Starting pitcher Scott Shaw pitched seven strong innings, allowing just a run in the second inning and striking out a career-high six batters before the Nittany Lions finally got to the sophomore pitcher in the eighth.

“Everything was going good and I was throwing all of my pitches well and effectively until the eighth,” Shaw said. “By the fourth inning I felt I had the batters guessing at the plate and felt really comfortable, but then I just lost my control a little bit late.”

Shaw was replaced by senior closer Jake Toohey who came on to relieve the Illini starter, but uncharacteristically struggled to retire batters, giving up a three-run double and an RBI single that allowed Penn State to grab a 6-2 lead.

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Illinois was unable to overcome the late push by Penn State, and couldn’t solve Penn State reliever Matt Ogrodnik, who pitched 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief and didn’t allow an Illini to reach base in the final three innings. Ogrodnik had also pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief earlier in the day against Michigan in Penn State’s extra inning win that eliminated the Big Ten regular season champion.

“Their relief pitcher came in and made the difference in the game,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We struggled to even get a hit off of him and he was very effective against us. We couldn’t through against him and things just didn’t work out for us in the end.”

Despite taking a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning on three singles by third baseman Brandon Wikoff, catcher Lars Davis and designated hitter Daniel Webb, the Illini struggled to score base-runners all game.

Illinois was unable to drive in runners in scoring position in its first four at bats of the game, putting a runner on third base in the first three innings and then a runner on second base in the fourth but not coming through with a big hit to get on the scoreboard.

“We had opportunities in all but two or three innings to score runs with runners in scoring position with less than two outs and we didn’t get our jobs done,” Hartleb said. “Unfortunately it ended up being the difference in the ball game.”

Davis’ 1-for-4 day at the plate gave him a .400 batting average to end the season, making him just the 21st player in Illinois history to end a season with a .400 or better average. Senior shortstop Shawn Roof also finished his career at Illinois with a stolen base in the game, making him the first Illinois player in history to steal 40 bases in a season.

The loss ends Illinois’ 2007 campaign with a 31-27 record, giving Hartleb 60 wins in his first two seasons as head coach of the Illini.

“We were able to get back into the tournament this year which I thought that we’d be able to come in and win multiple games and at least have that opportunity but it didn’t work out that way,” Hartleb said. “We did win a game however, and there is a lot to build on going into next year.”