Illini drop tough weekend series

Illinois+infielder+Michael+Massey+%286%29+hits+a+double+to+left+center+field+during+the+game+against+Grand+Canyon+at+Illinois+Field+on+Saturday%2C+April+21%2C+2018.+The+Illini+won+3-2.
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Illini drop tough weekend series

Illinois infielder Michael Massey (6) hits a double to left center field during the game against Grand Canyon at Illinois Field on Saturday, April 21, 2018. The Illini won 3-2.

Illinois infielder Michael Massey (6) hits a double to left center field during the game against Grand Canyon at Illinois Field on Saturday, April 21, 2018. The Illini won 3-2.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Michael Massey (6) hits a double to left center field during the game against Grand Canyon at Illinois Field on Saturday, April 21, 2018. The Illini won 3-2.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Michael Massey (6) hits a double to left center field during the game against Grand Canyon at Illinois Field on Saturday, April 21, 2018. The Illini won 3-2.

By Tatiania Perry, Staff writer

Illinois baseball kicked off its three-game weekend series against Grand Canyon University with split games.

In the first matchup, the Illini fell in a 5-1 loss due to an uneventful first few innings. 

Grand Canyon’s ace pitcher Jake Wong, the No. 44 college prospect, according to D1Baseball.com, held the Illini hitless for the first four-and-two-thirds innings.

“I thought we were composed against their first pitcher,” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “He is one of the top pitchers in the country, and I think we game some good at-bats.”

Wong didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning when Illinois standout Bren Spillane hit the ball out of the park to put the Illini up 1-0. 

The home run was Spillane’s 15th of the season and gave the Illini its only lead of the game. Grand Canyon responded quickly, scoring twice in the sixth inning and twice in the seventh.

The Antelopes had their top three in the lineup go 5-for-13 with three RBIs. All nine in the starting lineup reached base at least once.

Left-handed pitcher Andy Fisher lost for the first time in his Illini career, throwing the first six-and-two-thirds innings and allowing four runs while giving up seven hits.

On day two, the game took a similar look with the first few innings remaining scoreless.

“They are a good team. We came out last night, and we gave a good effort; the guys on the mound were really good,” said sophomore second baseman Michael Massey. “Today, we came out with the same effort and got a few big hits where we needed.”

It was Grant Van Scoy who scored the first run for the Illini. After being walked and then stealing second, the junior came home on a single to left by shortstop Ben Troike.

Grand Canyon remained scoreless going into the fifth, but in a similar fashion to Van Scoy’s run, Grand Canyon’s Griffin Barnes was walked to first, stole second and was brought home by teammate Preston Pavlica’s single to the left.

The Illini couldn’t respond in the bottom half of the inning, keeping the score locked at 1-1.

Quinn Snarskis opened up for the Illini with four scoreless innings, staying on the mound for a total of six innings, allowing five hits and one run.

The right-handed pitcher was relieved by Ryan Schmitt who, in his single inning of work, allowed two hits.

Spillane came up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth to give the Illini a lead once again, hitting his 16th homer of the season. 

“I got the best seat in the house; it’s unbelievable what he’s doing,” Massey said of Spillane’s homer. “I think he’s the best player in college baseball. I’ve said it all year, and I’ll say it again.”

Massey followed with a double out to left, advancing to third on a bunt from left fielder Doran Turchin. He then scored on a wild pitch by Antelopes reliever Josh Andrews to put the Illini up 3-1.

Zac Jones followed the duo in the top of the eighth, and closer Joey Gerber came in for the ninth. Grand Canyon didn’t go away easy and managed to score one run on a sac fly by centerfielder Preston Pavlica. The Antelopes had the tying run on second, but a groundout by second baseman Austin Bull ended the game to give the Illini the 3-1 victory. 

“Down this stretch, we are going to play some really good teams,” Hartleb said. “Grand Canyon is a good team, and each and every day is going to be a battle. We came out and found a way to win today.”

The Illini couldn’t complete the series win against the Antelopes on Sunday.

The two teams were tied heading into the eighth inning but after a struggling performance from the Illini relief pitchers, the Lopes scored three runs to take the game 5-3.

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