Illinois falls 2-1 in extras at Indiana

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Illinois falls 2-1 in extras at Indiana

Illinois starting pitcher Quinn Snarskis throws a pitch during the Big Ten season opener at Illinois Field Friday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa won the game 8-5.

Illinois starting pitcher Quinn Snarskis throws a pitch during the Big Ten season opener at Illinois Field Friday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa won the game 8-5.

Illinois starting pitcher Quinn Snarskis throws a pitch during the Big Ten season opener at Illinois Field Friday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa won the game 8-5.

Illinois starting pitcher Quinn Snarskis throws a pitch during the Big Ten season opener at Illinois Field Friday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa won the game 8-5.

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

While the Illini were able to squeeze out a 3-2 victory in the series opener at No. 15 Indiana on Friday, it was the Hoosiers who were able to survive a tight, 12-inning affair between the two rivals on Saturday.

After Bren Spillane walked to lead off the ninth, right fielder Jack Yalowitz singled to center to drive Spillane home to level the game at one apiece.

The game was a duel between two pitchers on top of their game.

Indiana scored one run in the first inning off Illinois starter Quinn Snarskis, but Snarskis was able to keep the Hoosiers off the board for the rest of his seven innings pitched while giving up seven hits.

The Hoosiers rode the performance of pitcher Cameron Beauchamp, who kept Illinois off the board and only allowed two hits in his six innings pitched.

Each team’s bullpen was able to continue the work of the starters. Illinois’ relievers gave up only the game-winning hit and three hits in four innings of work, while Indiana’s allowed only one run and three hits in six innings. The Hoosiers’ Matt Lloyd (3-0) started at second base before coming in to pitch the last 3.1 innings and take the win.

After Snarskis came out, Illinois redshirt junior Quinten Sefcik came in to pitch 2.1 innings, during which he only allowed one hit. Thompson came in and kept Indiana from scoring in the 11th inning before Indiana catcher Drew Ashley hit a 1-0 pitch through the breeze over the right field fence to win it for the Hoosiers in walk-off fashion.

Despite the loss, head coach Dan Hartleb was pleased with how the Illini played. He credited Snarskis and the relief pitchers with strong performances on the mound that helped keep the team in the game while only being able to rack up five hits and score one run.

“When you play good teams, you’re going to have tight games,” Hartleb said. “We found a way to tie it up in the ninth, it just was a tough day in that it didn’t go our way at the end.”

When Snarskis took the mound Saturday, a large crowd of Hoosier fans greeted him. Rather than being intimidated, however, he was excited for an opportunity to impress in a hostile situation.

“There was probably about 2,000 people there; it was cool to be up there on the mound and compete against a team like that,” Snarskis said. “It was a really good experience.”

After Friday’s win, Saturday’s result was yet another setback for a team that has now lost five of its last seven games.

Illinois was unable to do what it did the day before: complete a comeback in a high-pressure situation.

On Friday, the Illini competed against Hoosier pitcher Jonathan Stiever and fell behind 2-0. 

Second baseman Michael Massey started an Illini rally in the fourth inning on an RBI single. In the sixth, Spillane (.444), the nation’s leading hitter, drove home a run with a crucial double to tie the game at two.

It was center fielder Zac Taylor who broke the deadlock in the seventh with an RBI single to make it a 3-2 scoreline.

Taylor gave the Hoosiers some life in the ninth when he lost a fly ball in center field, turning it into a double, but closer Joey Gerber was able to strike out the final batter in just three pitches for his third strikeout of the inning and his 13th save on the year.

Heading into Sunday’s series-decider, Illinois sits at 25-13 (10-4 Big Ten Conference) on the season, while Indiana comes in at 30-10 (8-5 Big Ten Conference). The Illini, who sit third in the conference behind Michigan (11-1) and Minnesota (10-2), will further solidify their chances of qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament with a win. The Hoosiers are looking to move up from fifth in the conference (a half-game behind 8-4 Purdue), despite holding the best record and having three more wins than any other team.

The Illini will have sophomore right-hander Ty Weber (3.00 ERA) on the mound. Weber’s last time out was a six-inning effort in a series-deciding loss against Grand Canyon on April 22. Weber gave up two runs and five hits that game, and in the outing prior to that, he lasted a full game in a win against Rutgers, during which he gave up four hits and four earned runs. 

Hartleb acknowledged that this weekend’s series is a big one for his squad, but he said that each game still only counts as one game, even though Sunday’s contest will decide the series.

“I don’t want to place emphasis on any particular one game; it’s a big series,” Hartleb said. “If we get the win tomorrow, we’re in a good position up toward the top (of the conference); if not, we’re still up toward the top, just one more behind.”

In a series that has been defined so far by individual plays in tight situations, there is little margin for error for the Illini to come out with a road series win against the highest-ranked Big Ten foe they will likely face all season.

For Hartleb, the key to win is simple: keep up the high level of play and execute in the crucial moments.

“We’re going to have to continue to play at the level we’ve been playing at,” Hartleb said. “Hopefully, we can make the big pitch, the big plays we came up with (Friday).”

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