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Spillane stays hot in win as Illini avoid Iowa comeback

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Spillane stays hot in win as Illini avoid Iowa comeback

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

By Eli Schuster, Sports Editor

By the time the Iowa Hawkeyes put their comeback together, the Illini’s lead was already insurmountable.

Illinois held on for a 13-12 victory against Iowa at Illinois Field in the second matchup of a three-game series on Saturday.

After the Illini dropped their Big Ten home opener 8-5 the previous day, they were motivated to jump out to an early lead.

“I think we’re confident; that’s the biggest thing going in,” said second baseman Michael Massey. “Even after a loss yesterday, I could kind of feel in the locker room we knew we were going to come back today.”

After a first inning that showed flashes of the same Illinois team from a day ago that struggled to drive in runners with the bases loaded, the Illini scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the second.

Junior third baseman Grant Van Scoy bounced a single off of a sliding Robert Neustrom in right field for Iowa, moving Illinois’ Michael Michalak to third. A sacrifice fly by Zac Taylor scored Michalak to put the Illini up 1-0.

National standout Bren Spillane led off the bottom of the third inning with a single, followed by a double in the gap by second baseman Michael Massey, scoring Spillane. The next batter, Doran Turchin, stepped up to the plate and sent his second home run in two days over the left field wall, extending the Illini’s lead to 4-0.

“Everyone just kind of got rolling early on, and hitting is contagious,” Massey said.

A mound visit to the Hawkeyes’ Schanuel wasn’t enough to ease his nerves as the first pitch to right fielder Jack Yalowitz went into right field for a double. Michalak then singled past Iowa third baseman Lorenzo Elion, scoring Yalowitz and ending Schanuel’s night. However, a pitching change couldn’t slow down the Illini in the third inning.

Hawkeye reliever Kyle Shimp allowed Illini catcher Jeff Korte to hit an RBI single into right center, stretching the Illinois lead to 6-0. A Taylor single into the right-field gap got away from center fielder Justin Jenkins, and Taylor ended up at third.

The Illini’s eight consecutive hits ended there, but their scoring did not.

Ben Troike stepped up to the plate with a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Taylor. Spillane then did what he knows best and smacked his 13th home run of the season, making the Illini lead 10-0.

After batting around, Yalowitz went on to finally end the Illini inning on a pop out.

“I truly haven’t been part of a group that is so confident,” Spillane said. “Coming to the park every day, we all know that we have the mindset ‘we are going to go and win, doesn’t matter who we play.’ It’s really fun to be a part of.”

Iowa had a minor response to Illinois’ big inning with two runs in the top of the fourth and three in the top of the fifth, cutting the Illini lead to 10-5.

Illinois added a run in the bottom of the fifth after Massey reached third on a double and an error, scoring Spillane, who had singled, pushing the Illini lead to 11-5.

The offense was halted for 2 1/2 innings before Spillane got his fourth hit of the day and second home run. Turchin also scored later that inning after previously walking and scoring on a Yalowitz double.

Spillane became the fastest Illinois player to reach 14 home runs. The junior is currently batting .500 on the season and has 11 home runs in the last 10 games.

“In general, I’m trying to see pitches up,” Spillane said. “(If you) see the ball up and hit the ball up in the air, good things will happen.”

Spillane’s recent success doesn’t come as a surprise to his teammates.

“I don’t think it’s going to end,” Massey said. “We see it at practice every day; we have seen it for two years. I think he is the best baseball player in the country, and he is proving it right now.”

Junior Quinten Sefcik relieved starting pitcher Andy Fisher in the seventh inning and stayed in to try and close out the game for the Illini in the ninth.

Although, it didn’t come easy as the pitcher walked the first two  batters  and  gave up a three-run homer to Tanner Wetrich, making the score 13-8. A triple off the center field wall and a walk by Sefcik kept the Hawkeyes alive.

A relief appearance from Sean Leland didn’t last long, as he gave up a hit to Iowa’s Zion Pettigrew that brought home another run for the Hawkeyes, making it 13-9.

Traditional closer Joey Gerber then entered the game for the Illini, but he gave up a hit to the Hawkeyes’ Chris Whelan to load the bases. A single by Neustrom to left center scored two more for the Hawkeyes and then a sacrifice fly by Tyler Cropley trimmed the Illini lead to just 13-12.

However, the comeback for Iowa stopped there, as Gerber got the Hawkeyes’ Kyle Crowl to strike out, looking to end the ballgame.

“It was a really good day offensively,” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “I thought we did a lot of things very well. Our offensive continues to swing the bat very well, Bren had another really good day, but we have quality at-bats all up and down the lineup.”

The Illini finished up their three-game series against Iowa the next day with a 4-2 loss, dropping their first Big Ten series of the year.

Illinois is now 17-7 on the season and 4-2 in Big Ten play. Next, the team will travel northwest to Illinois State for one game on April 4.

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