Illinois baseball’s season ends with a series victory over Michigan

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Daily Illini File photo

Goldstein is one of the seniors who played their final game Saturday

By Will Gerard, Staff Writer

Before today’s game had even begun, the Illini had already their postseason fate decided for them on Senior Day at Illinois Field. The team was eliminated from contention as Maryland stormed back from behind to defeat Michigan State, taking home two of three in East Lansing over the weekend.

In front of one of the largest turnouts this season of Illinois faithful – 2,007 strong with hardly an empty seat available early among a splattering of orange t-shirts – the Illini did their best to end on a high note, winning 6-3 in their season finale with the Wolverines.

“Obviously everybody is disappointed,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We feel like we should be playing in championship situations all the time.”

Illinois senior starting pitcher Andrew Mamlic got the win for the Illini, surrendering one run in seven innings pitched. The victory was the third-starter’s fifth of the season and got stronger on the mound today as the game progressed. Mamlic had a 3.95 ERA prior his final start of the season.

Fellow senior Charlie Naso came into pitch in the top of the eight, a half-inning after the Big Ten Champion Illini men’s golf team led the seventh-inning stretch fresh off a fourth consecutive NCAA Regional Championship.

Naso pitched 2-3 of an inning – receiving an embrace from catcher Jason Goldstein on his final departure from the mound. Naso ended his career on a routine fly out after Michigan’s Cody Bruder continued his hot streak, hitting a two-run opposite field home run to right. Left-handed sidewinder J.D. Nielsen got the save – his sixth of the season – recording the last four outs of the ballgame with the last one a strikeout. 

For the first time in the series, the Illini struck first. Illinois first baseman Pat McInerney started off bottom of the second inning legging out a come backer that ricocheted of starting pitcher Evan Hill to second baseman Ako Thomas.

McInerney finished the day 4 for 5 at the plate with two doubles and was only retired on a long drive to left center in his final at-bat of the season. His four hits matched his career-high from last season. “Once we realized we couldn’t move on our main goal was getting a win for the seniors,” McInerney said.

Following the close play at first, the left-handed batting Dan Rowbottom slapped a line drive into left field. After a strikeout looking, designated hitter Anthony Drago sliced an RBI double into the left center gap and with runners on second and third.

Center fielder Doran Turchin continued the string of hits with another come backer off of Hill – the ball this time bounded over to shortstop Michael Brdar – making the score 2-0. Illinois would quickly put one more run across on a throwing error by Michigan catcher Harrison Wenson as he threw the ball into left field attempting to picking off Drago at third.

Michigan starting pitcher Evan Hill was able to limit the damage, inducing two consecutive ground balls from Jack Yalowitz and leadoff Michael Hurwitz to get out of the inning. The Wolverines would respond with one run in the third. Hill – the third consecutive left-handed starting pitcher of the series for the Wolverines – was replaced in the start of the third by Jayce Vancena, a large hard-throwing right-hander.

Vancena escaped in his first inning pitched, loading the bases on a two-out walk of Trent Hammond before a routine fly out to right from Anthony Drago. The Wolverines were forced to use five pitchers over the course of nine innings.

The Illini tacked on an additional insurance run in the fourth on a series of ground outs at the top of the order from Hurwitz and Walton following two consecutive singles up the middle by Turchin and freshman Yalowitz, who ended the series 4 for 9 out of the nine-spot.

The runs would continue in the fifth when after a mound visit from the Wolverines staff, Drago knocked in two runs with the infield drawn in to even depth on the fast-playing Illinois Field turf – effectively ending reliever Jayce Vancena’s day on the mound. The inning would end on a Turchin fly out to the warning track – a mere matter of feet from the new scoreboard that first debuted last season in right – and a soft lineout to short by Yalowitz.

Illinois finished the season 28-23 and 12-12 in conference play. The team will next year be without seniors Nick Blackburn, Jason Goldstein, Michael Hurwitz, Charlie Naso, J.D. Nielsen and Andrew Mamlic – all of which contributed at some point in their final career home series.

“This senior group has been outstanding,” Hartleb said. “They’ve been involved with a lot of wins here and I really appreciate everything that group and their family has done for our program.”

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