Baseball salvages series in comeback

By Anthony Zilis

Coming off a five-game losing streak, the Illinois baseball team needed a strong series against Minnesota to stay competitive in the Big Ten.

Winning three of four this weekend in two doubleheaders against Minnesota, the Illini got what they needed, not only in the standings but in their heads.

“Coming out after the series against Michigan, we needed to come out and prove that we still have a good team,” second baseman Joe Bonadonna said. “This win provides us with a lot of momentum.”

After winning both games of the doubleheader on Saturday, 15-2 and 7-3, the Illini lost the first game of the day Sunday, losing leadoff hitter Kyle Hudson to an ankle injury in the process.

With Hudson out, head coach Dan Hartleb moved Bonadonna to the leadoff spot for the fourth and final game of the series.

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Hartleb was rewarded for his decision with a 4-4 performance from his second baseman.

“Joe was outstanding,” Hartleb said. “He was really a spark plug for us.”

Bonadonna was happy to fill the void left by Hudson.

“Whatever I need to do to help out the team I’m willing to do,” Bonadonna said.

Bonadonna was driven in by Mike Giller in the first inning, and then drove in two runs of his own in the fifth, making the score 3-1.

Aaron Martin, the starting pitcher for the Illini in the series finale, cruised through the first seven innings of the game, giving up one unearned run on five hits.

But in the eighth inning, with the Illini up 4-1, the complexion of the game changed. Martin gave up three earned runs with only one out. He was replaced by Mike Sterk, who gave up two more runs, leaving the Gophers with a 6-4 edge.

But the Illini came back in the ninth to score five runs that were capped off by a Brian Wikoff RBI walk and an RBI single by Nick Stockwell.

The single led to a throwing error, resulting in an unearned run to put the Illini up 9-6. The game ended at 9-7.

The Illini victory gave the team its ninth comeback win of the year and set the program record for most Big Ten road wins in a season with nine.

Bonadonna said pulling out the win in the final inning was a confidence boost for the Illini.

“Looking around, everybody is happy now,” Bonadonna said. “If we would have lost both games, everyone would have been down for a while.”