Illinois baseball sweeps Minnesota in epic fashion

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Jack Larson

Catcher Jacob Schroeder settles into the batters box for his at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning against Eastern Illinois on April 18. The Illini finished the game with a 9-3 win on date.

By Adam Rosen, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois baseball closed out its seven-game homestand with another Big Ten matchup, this time with Minnesota on deck. The Illini entered the series with a 2-2 record during the long homestand, and the Illini could not have asked for a better time to host a struggling Golden Gophers squad.

The Illini entered the weekend 10th in the conference, just behind the visitors. However, no opponent can be marked as a pushover, and Illinois had no margin for error.

As usual, the series opener on Friday featured junior righthander Riley Gowens on the mound. Similar to his start against Indiana, the Illinois ace did not let the Gophers have many opportunities.

Through the first five innings, Gowens tossed 75 pitches, striking out eight Gophers and only allowing four baserunners. The Illini offense made it much less stressful for Gowens as well. In the fourth inning, second baseman Coltin Quagliano drove in a pair of runs on a homer just after senior catcher Jacob Schroeder did the same two batters earlier.

Graduate student and third baseman Branden Comia added his own home run in the fifth inning after Schroeder added his third and fourth RBIs of the game. The Illini entered the sixth inning up 8-0.

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Minnesota added a run in the seventh inning on a wild pitch, the only earned run charged to Gowens who went 6 ⅓ innings with nine strikeouts, allowing four hits and a pair of walks. Illinois loaded the bags in the bottom of the seventh with nobody out as well; however, the lineup could only muster one run before hitting into a double play and flying out.

The Illini took game one with relative ease, winning 9-3. Gowens and Schroeder led the way with big days, and the Illini had much to look forward to for game two.

On a cold and windy Saturday afternoon, freshman righthander Jake Swartz took the mound for Illinois, looking to give his team a 2-0 edge in the series. Minnesota would not let that happen easily, however. The Gophers smoked a home run off the scoreboard in right field, as they took an early 1-0 lead.

Swartz’s day ended in the second inning, as Minnesota looked ready to tee off after multiple walks and a leadoff double. However, graduate right-hander TJ Constertina entered and ended the Gophers’ threat, only allowing one run to score. Both teams added runs in the second and third innings, making it a 3-2 lead for the visitors.

Neither team could get much going through the middle innings, until Comia decided to take a ball deep the right field, for his second home run of the series. Illinois took their first lead of the game into the final three frames. Illinois added another run in the seventh to go up 5-3, which would be the final score, as the home side would look to sweep Minnesota in game three.

Looking for the sweep, junior righthander Jack Wenninger took the mound in game three. Wenninger was perfect through three, but had a rough fourth inning, as the Gophers took a 2-0 lead. However, graduate center fielder Cam McDonald cut the deficit in half with a shot to left field, and then Illinois tied the game on a throwing error in the fifth.

Wenninger’s day ended after 100 pitches, but he left with a man on first base. A double from Minnesota brought the go-ahead run across as it took a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Schroeder made the Gophers pay again, as he tied the game on a long home run to right field in the seventh inning.

Minnesota once again took the lead on a wild play at home, the throw was in time but Schroeder could not hold on as the visitors went up 4-3 in the ninth. The Gophers added another run as they looked to avoid a sweep.

The Illini got within a run on a home run by junior first baseman Drake Westcott, making it a 5-4 game in the ninth. With the game, and series seep on the line, Schroeder played the hero, again. The catcher crushed a ball to straightway center field as the Illini walked it off to complete a sweep over the Gophers, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Head coach Dan Hartleb praised his players for their resilience following the walk-off win.

“The guys didn’t quit,” Hartleb said. “Moerman ran as hard he could and on the first pitch, Schroeder smoked it.”

The Illini are back at .500 with a record of 18-18 and 7-8 in conference play. They will be back in action this Tuesday against the Bradley Braves for their first road appearance in two weeks.

 

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