Michigan sweeps Illinois at home



By Jason Grodsky

This weekend’s cold, rainy and windy weather cooled off a red-hot Illinois baseball team.

For the first time this season Illinois lost a conference series and lost at home, dropping all four games of its weekend series against No. 23 Michigan at Illinois Field.

Winners of 16 of its 20 games, Illinois came in with an opportunity to move into first place in the Big Ten, but was unable to keep the Wolverine bats quiet. Michigan tormented Illinois’ pitchers in every game, plating 44 runs in the series to Illinois’ 19.

Michigan (22-8 overall, 11-1 Big Ten) had the upper hand in the series all weekend, jumping on top of the Illini (18-12, 6-6) in the first inning of every game and never falling behind, beating Illinois 9-5, 14-4, 14-6 and 7-4.

“I’m disappointed in the way the whole weekend went,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Against a good team you have to play fundamentally sound and we didn’t do that.”

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Michigan’s pitchers quieted what had been a hot Illini offense, never allowing Illinois to get into a groove at the plate.

Illinois scored more than one run in an inning just four times, with its biggest inning coming in game one of the series. The Illini knocked in three runs in the bottom of the fifth on the back of third baseman Dominic Altobelli’s fourth home run of the year.

“We put up a lot of hits but couldn’t string them together,” said shortstop Brandon Wikoff, who was 7-for-15 in the series. “We’d get guys on base and then hit into double plays and couldn’t catch the breaks.”

While Illinois struggled at the plate, Michigan had no problem scoring runs in bunches, sending multiple runners across the plate in an inning on 12 different occasions.

After losing the first three games of a series for the first time since 2006 against Northwestern, Illinois sent its ace, junior Aaron Martin, to the mound to try and salvage the final game of the series.

The team’s wins leader was unable to stop the bleeding, giving up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Of Michigan’s seven runs, five were earned, as Illinois’ top-ranked Big Ten defense fell subject to three errors in the finale.

“Our defense was terrible,” Hartleb said. “The weather wasn’t great but it shouldn’t have affected us. (Michigan) was able to field the ball and make plays, there are no excuses for it, we just played poorly.”

Illinois outhit the Wolverines in the finale and pulled within 7-4 in the eighth inning. The team had an opportunity to close the gap with runners on first and second base and no outs, but Michigan escaped the inning and closed the door in the ninth to earn the series sweep.

The sweep was Michigan’s second straight over a Big Ten opponent and the first Illinois has suffered since 2003. The losses dropped the Illini to fourth place in the conference.

“It was a tough weekend, but we can’t let this effect us going into next week,” Wikoff said.