Wikoff hits for cycle in Illini win

After his team dropped two of three to Indiana last weekend, Illinois baseball head coach Dan Hartleb said his players would forget about the losses and move forward — and Tuesday they did just that.

“We did a good job swinging the bats tonight and came up with some big hits,” Hartleb said. “(Junior shortstop) Brandon Wikoff was outstanding.”

Wikoff became the first Illinois player to hit for the cycle since 1990 in leading the Illini (19-7, 4-2) to an 11–9 victory over Bradley. The contest ended a nine-game home stand for the Orange and Blue, their longest of the season. Wikoff finished the night four-for-five with four RBIs and three runs scored.

“I think my teammates enjoyed it more than me to be honest,” Wikoff said. “I just saw the ball real well today and tried to take advantage of some of their (pitching) mistakes.”

Hartleb did some shuffling with his lineup prior to the game, as redshirt sophomore Matt Dittman got the nod at first base after two impressive performances in last weekend’s series against the Hoosiers. Junior Aaron Johnson started at DH with senior Chris Montgomery taking over Johnson’s traditional role of catcher, and senior Joe Bonadonna, who usually lines up in center field, played second base due to the injury of Josh Parr. The freshman left last Saturday’s contest with a sprained knee but entered Tuesday’s game in the eighth inning.

“We wanted to get (Parr) back out there, and get him in a situation where he trusts his knee a little bit,” Hartleb said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

The Braves jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but a double by sophomore Casey McMurray drove home Bonadonna to tie the score after one inning of play. Bradley took the lead back in the second with an RBI single by junior Kevin Sullivan, but the Illini rallied for five runs in the third, with Montgomery and sophomore Pete Cappetta recording two RBIs apiece. Cappetta batted one-for-five with two RBIs on the night.

A Wikoff homer in the fourth made the score 7-2, though Bradley would bounce back with a double by right fielder Colby Luttrell. The senior’s hit capped a five-run fifth inning for the Braves that tied the game at seven. But a two-run double from Wikoff in the bottom of the inning ensured the Illini led 9-7 headed to the sixth — and they did not relinquish the lead after that.

On the mound, senior pitcher Aaron Martin was credited with the win for Illinois on a night when six Illini saw action. Bradley freshman Brandon Stevens was charged with the loss.