Controversial call spoils late comeback for Illinois

By Ethan Swanson

.@IlliniBaseball suffers tough lose after late comeback

There was controversy on the diamond in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Tuesday for the Illini baseball team.

Taking on Indiana State (15-11), Illinois (10-12) saw a four-run eighth-inning comeback slip through its fingers on what seemed to be the last out in the bottom of the ninth, ultimately losing 5-4 on what was ruled a passed-ball walk off.

“I was pleased with how our guys put us in a position to win after swinging the bat at some poor pitches most of the game,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “But obviously things didn’t work out in our favor.”

There were zeros across the board for each team through the first two innings, but only the Sycamores seemed to have an eye for the ball from that point forward.

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Indiana State scored two runs in the third inning and blasted a solo homerun in the fourth to jump out to an early 3-0 lead.

The fifth inning ended in startling fashion when Sycamore Tyler Friis was picked off while attempting to steal second base by Illini catcher Jason Goldstein. Friis remained on the dirt after sliding into second, resulting in a medical delay that ended with Friis being carried off the field in a stretcher.

The fifth inning was also the last for Illini starting pitcher Andrew Mamlic, who finished his outing with four hits, one earned run, one error and one strikeout after facing 19 Sycamore batters.

The fifth-inning delay did nothing to cool of the Indiana State offense, as the Sycamores belted their second solo homer of the day off Illinois pitcher Charlie Naso in the bottom of the sixth, extending the lead to 4-0.

Through the first seven innings, the Illini offense had only two hits despite averaging over eight and half per game entering Tuesday.

However, in the eighth inning, the dormant Illini bats would finally awakened.

The Illini began the top of the eighth with three-straight hits from Hurwitz, Rowbottom, and Walton to drive in Illinois’ first run of the night.

Pat McInerney would soon follow with a ground to score Walton from second base.

Down 4-2 with two outs, Anthony Drago stepped up to the plate – and delivered the Illini’s fourth hit of the inning in style.

With one swing, Drago tied the game four with a two-run bomb, putting the Illini right back in the game after what appeared to be a woeful night offensively.

“Up to that point we had been putting ourselves at a disadvantage with the counts we were getting in,” Hartleb said. “Then we were getting caught swinging at bad pitches. In the eighth, we got some (pitches) at the belt and were able to take advantage.”

Illini pitcher Nick Blackburn worked out of a jam with runners on base in the bottom of the eighth to keep the game tied heading into the final inning.

The Illini were held scoreless in the top of the ninth, and when Blackburn worked the Sycamores to two outs with a runner on second in the bottom frame, it looked as if the game would go to extra innings.

With two strikes, Blackburn got the Indiana state batter to swing and miss – striking him out.

What happened next was a source of controversy in the game.

Goldstein kept Blackburn’s pitch in front of him, but didn’t catch it, making it a drop-third strike and allowing the batter to run to first. However, the ball hit the ankle of the Sycamore batter while still in the batter’s box, which should have resulted in a dead ball and the batter being called out – ending the inning.

But a dead ball was not called.

In the confusion, Goldstein was too late throwing to first, and the runner on second scored to end the game and stifle the Illini’s four-run comeback.

“The inning started with an error at third that was a play the needs to be made 100 percent of the time to put a runner on,” Hartleb said. “It was an unfortunate way to end the game.”

“You can point to a lot of things, but we just need to be more consistent,” Hartleb added. “We are a young team, but I see a lot of guys that have experience and should understand what it takes to be successful.”

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