Illinois throttles Southern Illinois in 9-1 in-state showdown

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

Southern Illinois struck first on Tuesday night, benefitting from an early error and a timely single to take a 1-0 lead, but it was all Illinois from there on.

Bren Spillane opened up a three-run rally in the bottom of the third inning with an RBI single before scoring from second on a Saluki throwing error after  a sacrifice fly from second baseman Michael Massey.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Illini broke it open, putting five runs past the Salukis before they could get even one out.

The massive inning started with first baseman Spillane getting hit by a pitch. Massey came up behind him and singled up the middle, allowing Spillane to move from first to third.

At that point, the Salukis swapped starter Dylan Givens for Noah Farmer, who fared no better.

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The freshman left-hander gave up a single to Michael Michalak before left fielder Doran Turchin knocked a three-run homer over the left field fence to make it 7-1 Illinois. Center fielder Zac Taylor answered with a home run of his own, also to left field, to grab a commanding 8-1 lead.

In the sixth, Turchin had an RBI single to score Massey and make it 9-1 Illinois.

The Illini were dominant on the mound as well Tuesday night. Starter Cyrillo Watson went three innings, giving up two hits and one unearned run before hitting his pitch count.

A five-pitcher combination filled in the rest of the game, with sophomore left-hander Zack Jones pitching two scoreless innings before being relieved by freshman right-hander Ryan Kutt in the sixth, who didn’t allow a hit and struck out one Saluki batter.

Freshman left-hander Jimmy Burnette struck out two in the seventh before senior left-hander Jackson Douglas came in to pitch the eighth, where he struck out one and gave up no hits. Closer Joey Gerber shut the Salukis down to seal the victory, striking out two batters before the last batter fouled out.

Head coach Dan Hartleb credited his team for performing well in all aspects of the game, especially after its struggles over the past couple of weeks, during which the Illini lost six of eight games.

“We’ve gone through a two-and-a-half-week period where our guys have tried too hard,” Hartleb said. “You can’t try too hard and you can’t rush things; you can’t speed things up. Tonight, we showed much more composure at the plate and on the mound.”

Illinois had 13 hits compared with just two for Southern. It was the team’s best-scoring outing since a 10-4 win over Rutgers that secured a series sweep on April 15.

Turchin had his most successful game of the season offensively, going 3-for-4 at the plate and racking up four RBIs in addition to his home run.

His home run ball looked as if it would be a routine fly out to deep left, but the wind caught it and carried it over the fence.

“I knew it was going to be fair and I knew I hit it well, but I knew I definitely didn’t get it all and I got underneath it,” Turchin said. “The wind definitely helped me, but my goal there was I wanted to get the run in, so I knew I just needed to hit something to the outfield.”

The win comes at an important time for the Illini (26-14, 10-5 Big Ten Conference), who will host sixth-place Ohio State (28-13, 9-6 Big Ten Conference) in a weekend series which will have a major effect on the Big Ten standings as the regular season winds down.

After their recent struggles, the Illini gathered for a team meeting ahead of the game against the Salukis to get themselves back in the right mindset to compete.

“I think the gist of it was basically: Relax,” Hartleb said. “We’re a good team; you go through up’s and down’s throughout the season. It was just an opportunity for them to kind of relax, go out and play really hard and they were rewarded with our production tonight.”


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