Illini fall to Iowa 4-2 on Easter Sunday

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Illini fall to Iowa 4-2 on Easter Sunday

Illinois infielder Michael Massey takes a swing at the ball in the Illini's Big Ten home opener against Iowa on March 30.

Illinois infielder Michael Massey takes a swing at the ball in the Illini's Big Ten home opener against Iowa on March 30.

Illinois infielder Michael Massey takes a swing at the ball in the Illini's Big Ten home opener against Iowa on March 30.

Illinois infielder Michael Massey takes a swing at the ball in the Illini's Big Ten home opener against Iowa on March 30.

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

The Illinois baseball team got off to the start it wanted on a snowy Easter Sunday at Illinois Field, as Zac Taylor opened up the first inning with a leadoff single before eventually scoring on a Ben Troike groundout. Later in the inning, junior left fielder Doran Turchin drove a liner to left field, allowing Bren Spillane to score a run and open up a 2-0 lead.

However, the Illini were unable to drive in any more runs after that. They lost 4-2, only falling for the third time on the season when scoring first.

Ty Weber enjoyed a solid performance on the day, pitching five scoreless innings before he gave up two runs in the top of the sixth. He was removed after giving up five hits and two walks, and striking out three batters.

But after Iowa tied it up and the Illini inserted sophomore right-hander Ryan Thompson, their struggles continued. Thompson went the remainder of the game, but in the seventh inning, he allowed two runs. He gave up six hits and struck out three batters of the 13 he faced.

Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said the snowy conditions were not a factor, and that he thought his team did have some good at-bats despite ultimately coming up short in its quest for its second-straight Big Ten series win.

“I liked some of the at-bats,” Hartleb said. “I thought Grant Van Scoy hit a ball really hard with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Nothing you can do about that (being caught); that’s part of the game. I didn’t think the other times we had runners in scoring position, that we had great swings or those quality at-bats you like to see, but it’s not easy.

Bren Spillane, who has been maintaining a career year for the Illini, is facing a new problem when coming up to bat: opposing teams don’t want to risk pitching to him.

The Wheeling, Illinois native was walked a career-high four times on Sunday before striking out in the eighth inning after a call that drew ire from the Illinois fans who had braved the snowy conditions.

Hartleb was not at all surprised by the Hawkeyes’ conservative approach. He expects it to continue.

“That’s the way it’s going to be the rest of the year,” Hartleb said. “They’re not going to feed him anything to hit, and he’s got to be patient to be able to fight in that situation.”

Spillane was a bit frustrated about not getting many chances to build on his .495 batting average, 38 RBIs and 1.149 slugging percentage, but he maintains his trust in his teammates being able to convert on opportunities as a result of him being denied the chance.

“If you’re not seeing pitches, it’s tough to do something,” Spillane said. “But you just take it as it is and know that the guy behind you is going to pick you up.”

That guy on Sunday — and all season, as the lineup has mostly gone unchanged — was sophomore second baseman Michael Massey, who was the only Illini with multiple hits (2 for 5, 1 RBI).

Massey enjoys the opportunity Spillane being on first base gives him.

“It’s not hard hitting behind Bren Spillane,” Massey said. “If they walk him, you know they’re going to come after me, so I just have to be ready to hit and try to put a good swing on it.”

The Illini, currently ranked No. 22 by Baseball America and No. 31 in RPI, dropped to 17-7 (4-2 Big Ten) with the loss, its second in three days after the team fell 8-5 on Friday evening.

They will travel to Bloomington-Normal on Wednesday for an in-state showdown with Illinois State (10-13) at 4:30 p.m.

Hartleb said he had not looked ahead yet to the Redbirds, but getting the team ready in the next couple days is now the top priority after the series with the Hawkeyes.

Though the Illini have now lost two of their past three games, Spillane believes the team still maintains its self-assured mindset and that it can learn from its mistakes from the weekend.

“(We will) take in what we can to learn from it and going in with a lot of confidence, as always,” Spillane said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem going forward.”

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