Illini baseball drops two of three to Hoosiers

Illinois senior pitcher Ben Reeser put on an impressive performance Saturday afternoon at Illinois Field. The right-handed Reeser pitched nine innings, allowing just one run and recording eight strikeouts against the Indiana Hoosiers. But a 10th-inning home run from Indiana freshman Alex Dickerson stole the show from Reeser and handed the Illini their sixth loss of the season.

“It’s always exciting going into the ninth inning and having thrown a one-run ball game,” Reeser said. “But it’s baseball. There have been games I’ve won where I didn’t deserve to win. That’s how it is. It all evens out.”

Indiana (12-16, 3-2 Big Ten) defeated the Illini on Friday and Saturday to successfully win the three-game series. Illinois (18-7, 4-2) won Saturday’s evening game, the second of a doubleheader. The doubleheader was played after a rainy weather forecast forced Sunday’s game to be moved up a day.

Friday’s contest saw the Illini jump out to a 2-1 first-inning lead, but rallies from the Indiana offense in the third, fourth and seventh innings — highlighted by a pair of home runs from junior catcher Josh Phegley — eventually propelled the Hoosiers to a 14-4 victory.

Phegley finished the day 3-for-4 with five RBIs. The lone offensive bright spot for Illinois was junior shortstop Brandon Wikoff, who batted 4-for-5 with one RBI. Despite his impressive performance, Wikoff was not satisfied with Friday’s result.

“We’ve got to back up our pitchers better,” he said. “We didn’t play too well on defense (Friday).”

Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb stressed the importance of immediately forgetting Friday’s loss to his players.

“Every now and then, a game gets away from you, and you’re not going to perform well,” Hartleb said. “But you have to have a short memory. That’s baseball.”

Saturday’s doubleheader did not feature the offensive firepower of Friday’s game. Game one proved to be a nail-biter, with the Hoosiers winning 2-1 in 10 innings. Reeser started on the mound for the Illini, while junior Eric Arnett pitched the full 10 innings for Indiana, becoming the first pitcher in school history ever to do so.

Arnett picked up his sixth win of the season, and sophomore Nick Chmielewski, who pitched the tenth inning for Illinois, was charged with the loss. Reeser’s start was his first since suffering a strained back on the team’s spring break trip in Florida.

In Saturday’s second game, Indiana junior Matt Bashore started on the mound, and the Hoosier offense jumped out to a 3-1 lead. But a two-run homer in the sixth from Illinois catcher Aaron Johnson evened things at 3-3.

“(Bashore) usually throws a pretty straight fastball,” Johnson said. “But he just left one up, which he doesn’t do very much, and I went after it.”

The Illini then rallied in the eighth, when key hits from center fielder Pete Cappetta and first baseman Matt Dittman put them in front 5-3. Indiana would score once in the ninth to make the final 5-4, and Illinois pitcher Will Strack, who entered the game in the seventh, received the win. Cappetta finished the game 2-for-4 with one RBI. Dittman, who saw playing time in both of Saturday’s games due to second baseman Josh Parr leaving game one with an apparent leg injury, batted 1-for-3 with an RBI.

“It’s a tough loss with Parr,” Dittman said. “He’s obviously a catalyst on our team.”

Hartleb said Parr’s status for Tuesday’s game against Bradley is uncertain. He also said he was impressed with Dittman’s performance Saturday. Dittman finished the day a combined 3-for-6 with two RBIs in two games.

“I just tried to go out and play the best that I could,” Dittman said. “I just tried to get on base and to make some good stuff happen.”