Pitching woes lead Illini to Big Ten tourney loss

By Jason Grodsky

It was d‚j… vu for the Illinois pitching staff against the Minnesota Gophers.

The group struggled to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard in its season series against the Gophers, allowing 48 runs in three losses to the Gophers on April 27-29 in Champaign, and Thursday turned out to be no different.

The Illini hurlers gave up 10 runs on 16 hits in a 10-3 loss in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in Ann Arbor, Mich. The loss sent the Illini into the losers’ bracket of the tournament and put them one loss away from elimination.

“We got down early and allowed their pitcher to settle in and he did a great job against us,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “It wasn’t a fun situation to be in when we were having to comeback from being down as much as we were throughout the game.”

The No. 2- seeded Gophers jumped on the No. 5-seeded Illini for five runs in the first inning – four coming before the Illini were able to record an out.

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Illinois sophomore starting pitcher Mike Stankiewicz lasted only one inning for the Illini, giving up the first five runs of the game on five hits. Senior reliever Brian Long didn’t fair much better against the Gopher bats.

Long took a pounding on the mound, allowing five runs on nine hits, but was able to eat up four innings for the Illini staff that saw four pitchers take the mound on the afternoon.

“We tried not to use anybody for an extended period of time on the mound,” Hartleb said. “We want to have guys fresh if we win (Friday) because we could play multiple games later on in the weekend and we want guys to be able to rebound.”

A day after the Illini jumped out to an early lead against Iowa in the first round of the tournament and scored 12 runs on 12 hits, the Illini bats were unable to muster any offense.

Illinois didn’t have a run cross the plate until the seventh inning. Already trailing 10-0 the Illini finally got on the scoreboard when sophomore right fielder Nick Stockwell reached on a fielding error by the Minnesota shortstop, allowing two runs to score.

Freshman third baseman Brandon Wikoff added the Illini’s third run of the game later in the inning with a single through the right side of the infield, but that would be the last time Illinois put a run up on the board.

With the loss, the Illini will play an elimination game Friday at 2:35 p.m. against either No. 3-seeded Penn State or the loser of Thursday’s game between No. 1-seed Michigan and No. 6-seed Ohio State. The loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game will face Penn State at 11:05, with the winner playing the Illini immediately after. The loser would be eliminated.

Unlike the loser of tonight’s game between Michigan and Ohio State, Illinois won’t have to play two elimination games on Friday because Michigan has already had a bye in the tournament and Ohio State is a lower seed then the Illini.

“At this point in the season teams are strong mentally and tomorrow’s game will be do or die for us and our opponent,” Hartleb said. “It will all come down to pitching tomorrow like it has in the last two games.”