Pitching staff carries baseball in series against Michigan State

 

 

By Jason Grodsky

Temperatures hovered in the 30s at Oldsmobile Park in Lansing, Mich., but Illinois’ pitchers were bringing heat in the team’s first conference series of the season.

Snow prevented Michigan State and Illinois from playing their Big Ten season opener on Friday, forcing the teams to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. Illinois’ pitchers responded by giving up only nine earned runs over four games and pitching back-to-back complete games against the Spartans to start 3-1 in the Big Ten.

Illinois took the first three games of the series with 9-5, 2-0 and 5-3 wins, and nearly completed the sweep before the Spartans earned a come-from-behind victory in the series finale to snap the Illini’s six-game win streak.

“We pitched extremely well, both starting and then Ben Reeser out of the bullpen did a good job for us,” head coach Dan Hartleb said.

“We played with a lot of heart and gained some confidence that we can win games. It’s going to be a long Big Ten season that we’re going to have to grind out, but this was a good start,” he added.

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    Timely hitting and solid relief pitching allowed Illinois to jump on top of Michigan State on Saturday.

    In game one, Illinois put together a five-run fifth inning, highlighted by back-to-back two-run doubles by third baseman Dominic Altobelli and first baseman Ryan Hastings that put the Spartans away.

    Although the bats were quiet in game two, pitcher Mike Stankiewicz gave the Illini plenty support from the mound. The junior starter threw his first complete game since May 12, 2007, not allowing a run or a walk while giving up four hits to Michigan State.

    Stankiewicz needed just 73 pitches to earn his second win of the week, and although all four hits he allowed were doubles, he made sure the Spartans were unable to capitalize on them.

    “I tried to get ahead of hitters early and then let the bats pick me up,” Stankiewicz said. “My focus is a lot better out there compared to my first couple of starts where I was over thinking instead of working one pitch at a time.”

    Stankiewicz’s performance was followed by another complete game from an Illini hurler in Sunday’s first game. Junior Scott Shaw capped a come-from-behind, 5-3 win with his second win of the year.

    Shaw pitched seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits but was in line for the loss until the Illini put together a four-run inning in their last at bat to take a two-run lead.

    Shaw finished the game off by inducing two flyball outs and a pop out to earn the third complete game win of his career and guarantee a series win for Illinois.

    “Mike and I are going to be pitching in the Saturday doubleheaders and they want us to pitch like we did and we showed we’re capable of it,” Shaw said.

    “I had one rough inning but after that things went well and the comeback was impressive and gave me a lot of confidence to go out and finish the game in the seventh inning.”

    Illinois received seven and 1/3 strong innings from Aaron Marin in the series finale, but Illini hitters could only muster two runs in support of their ace.

    The 3-2 loss was only Illinois’ second in its last 11 games and prevented the team from earning its first Big Ten opening series sweep since 2005.

    “It’s a little disappointing that we weren’t able to put the nail in the coffin in the last game, but if we continue to play that well in the Big Ten we’re going to win a lot of games,” Shaw said of the team’s attitude going forward.