Illinois baseball comes out on top in series against No. 18 Southern Mississippi

By Adam Rosen, Staff Writer

Illinois baseball traveled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for a three-game showdown against the No. 18 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles from Friday to Sunday, earning a 2-1 series win on the weekend. 

The Illini entered with a 2-2 record on the season while the Golden Eagles boasted a 4-0 start to the year. As expected, redshirt junior pitcher Riley Gowens took the mound for the first of three games, after racking up a career-high 11 strikeouts in the season opener.

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The Illini jumped out to a 4-0 lead in game one after senior right fielder Cam McDonald posted an RBI fielder’s choice, followed by junior first baseman Drake Westscott’s three-run jack in the third inning. 

The Golden Eagles threatened to cut down the deficit with the bases juiced in the fourth, with nobody out, but Gowens punched out three straight to get out of a jam and keep the shutout intact. 

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    Despite some rally attempts from the Golden Eagles, the Illini held on and smacked in 13 runs in a 13-5 win on Friday night.

    Looking to pull off another victory in game two, junior Jack Crowder stepped up to the mound this time for the Illini. However, the Illini were unable to contain the Golden Eagles for long, as they jumped out to an early 7-3 lead.

    In the sixth inning, Illinois cut heavily into the deficit, pulling within two runs, before storming back and tying it up in the seventh inning on a three run shot from junior infielder Cal Hezja. 

    However, the Golden Eagles once again took back the lead, and the Illini were down to their final outs. That did not stop them from once again rallying, taking a two run lead off another Hezja three-run missile in the ninth. The Golden Eagles responded by tying the game at 12 runs apiece, before freshman Brady Banker locked it down to force extra innings. 

    In extra innings, both teams scored in the tenth inning and forced another round of free baseball. After the Illini went down scoreless in the top half, the Golden Eagles took advantage and walked it off on a deep fly ball to center field, winning the game 14-13 and tying the weekend series at 1-1.

    The rubber match on Sunday started quickly for the Illini as they instantly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Jack Wenninger, refused to allow runs as the Illini piled on. The Illini reached on the first seven batters of the sixth inning as well, and stretched out to a 9-0 lead. 

    A three run shot in the sixth inning by the Golden Eagles put the game at 9-3, and in the seventh inning they threatened with the bases loaded but only mustered one run via a wild pitch. 

    However, the Illini locked down and finished the series off with a 9-4 win over the Golden Eagles. With their first ranked wins of the season, the Illini moved to 4-3 on the season. 

    Illinois will come home for a bit before heading back on the road to Huntsville, Tex. They will take on the Sam Houston State Bearkats starting Friday.



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