Maryland crushes Illinois as Weber’s struggles continue


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Jack Yalowitz gets ready to hit against Northwestern at Illinois Field on April 15.

By Stephen Cohn, Staff writer

Illinois pitcher Ty Weber nearly exited the first inning unscathed.

Maryland third baseman AJ Lee instead caught the Illini’s defense by surprise.

The sophomore laid down a bunt with two outs and the bases loaded in the opening frame. Illinois third baseman Trent Hammond could not cleanly make a barehanded play, allowing Maryland (31-13, 14-5 Big Ten) to score its first of three first-inning runs en route to a 9-4 victory.

“We pitched poorly tonight; we pitched poorly out of the chute,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We were behind 8-0, and that’s hard to overcome.”

Lee batted sixth for John Szefc’s club Friday night after hitting in the nine-hole his first 37 games of 2017.

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Shortstop Kevin Smith hit a two-RBI double past a diving Hammond to continue the first inning, two-out rally.

Weber exited Friday after tying a season-high with eight runs allowed in 2 1/3 innings.

The loss is Weber’s second-straight rough start in a Big Ten series opener. The freshman allowed five earned runs and 11 hits in six innings last Friday at Minnesota.

“(Weber) just didn’t have good command tonight of his fastball,” Hartleb said. “He got behind on a continual basis and elevated pitches in the middle.”

Right-handed pitcher Quinten Sefcik relieved Weber and helped save Hartleb’s bullpen for the weekend by going 3 2/3 innings and allowing one run.

Illinois’ pitching staff walked eight Maryland batters, five of which came in the first three innings.

Doran Turchin picked up Illinois’ first hit with one out in the third inning. Turchin’s base knock ignited a four-hit, three-run inning for the Illini, including a RBI double by first baseman Pat McInerney, to cut Maryland’s lead to 8-3.

Right fielder Jack Yalowitz led off the fifth inning with his 11th home run of the season to make the deficit 8-4. McInerney leads the Illini with 12 home runs.

“The theme has been the last couple of weeks to battle back,” Yalowitz said. “I like how we battled back and got closer to win, but it wasn’t enough.”

Second baseman Michael Massey extended his hitting streak to 15 games in a 1-for-4 outing. Massey has won the past two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards.

Illinois (19-24, 5-11 Big Ten) faced one of the conference’s premier pitchers in Maryland’s Brian Shaffer. The junior right-handed pitcher surrendered two earned runs in eight innings in the win.

Shaffer has pitched at least seven innings with three earned runs or fewer in seven-consecutive starts.

“(Shaffer) had command of the fastball,” Hartleb said. “He got ahead in the count a lot, and he threw a breaking ball right off the plate when he was ahead in the count.”

Friday’s matchup was Maryland’s first-ever visit to Champaign. The Terrapins now own the all-time series lead with a 4-3 record.

The Illini can even up the series with the Terrapins on Saturday afternoon. Freshman Cyrillo Watson is Illinois’ probable starter, while Tyler Blohm is expected to start for Maryland.

“We have to get ahead of them early,” Yalowitz said. “We have to go out there and get some runs early and throw the first punch this time.”

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