Illini baseball rally late to keep postseason hopes alive

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The Illini need Michigan State to win to better their chances on Saturday

By Masaki Sugimoto

After a miracle comeback in Champaign, the Illini were able to extend their Big Ten Tournament aspirations another day.

The team’s prospects of qualifying for the tournament looked to be slipping away until the team somehow flipped a switch, responding in a big way despite a late ninth inning scare. Beginning in the sixth, the Illini strung together a series of timely hits, surmounting a five-run deficit in an eventual 11-8 victory.

On a rainy night, the team’s collective spirit was not damped as they trailed early big early with starting pitcher Doug Hayes being knocked out of the game in the fifth after allowing a towering two-run home run to Wolverines catcher Harrison Wenson, making the score 7-2.

Throwing entirely out of the stretch, right-hander Charlie Neso replaced Hayes, throwing three scoreless innings while allowing two hits. The Illini would eventually tie the ballgame before Pat McInerney put the Illini ahead for good in the bottom half of the eight on a towering home run off the batter’s eye in center field.

“It was 2-0, and I was just trying to get a pitch I could handle,” said McInerney. “When it went over I think I blacked out running around the bases.”

The team also added three additional insurance runs in the eight. Jack Yalowitz – who ended reaching base four times – knocked in two runs on a single up the middle and Adam Walton had a sacrifice fly to center to put the Illini ahead 11-7.

Illinois began the rally in the bottom of the sixth, putting four runs on the scoreboard. The rally started when centerfielder Doran Turchin legged out an infield single on a slow dribbler up the middle, followed by a series of one-out walks from Jack Yalowitz and Michael Hurwitz. With the bases loaded, Adam Walton had an infield single to put the Illini on the board. Walton would later tie the game on an RBI single in the seventh.

There was no play at first on the single as Michigan shortstop Michael Brdar slipped and fell attempting to turn and throw on the wet orange infield turf. Jason Goldstein then grounded out to third to get the second Illini run across of the inning. As the tying run at the plate, the hero of the game, McInerney singled to left, scoring two more across for the Illini.

The Wolverines were able to jump ahead 3-0 after hits from the middle of the order. Ako Thomas had a single to left field with a man on first before Cody Bruder cleared the bases on his second double of the night. Bruder had nearly identical doubles to left center in his first two at bats. The last run of the inning came on a dropped infield fly by Michael Hurwitz.

In the following half inning, Hurwitz redeemed himself in a big way, pulling a two-run home run over the left field wall. The home run was the redshirt senior’s first of the season and only the second of his Illini career.

The Wolverines were able to get the tying run on in the ninth, loading the bases with the aid of four walks by Illini closer Nick Blackburn. Cole Bellair was however able to close the door, recording the last out of the night on a strikeout of last night’s hero, Johnny Slater.

The final meeting between both sides is set for 3 p.m. tomorrow. If Illinois wins on Senior Day – with a Michigan State victory over Maryland – they will have played their way into the Big Ten Tournament.
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