The Daily Illini

Errors help Ohio State take down Illinois and clinch series

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

Illinois entered Sunday’s contest against Ohio State as the No. 5-ranked team in fielding percentage (.982). However, after committing a season-high four errors and gifting the Buckeyes eight of their 10 runs, that statistic is on the decline.

Ohio State rode a five-run second inning to pick up a series victory and move into a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten Conference with Illinois (each team is 11-7).

The loss was the seventh in Illinois’ last 11 games, a stretch that has seen it go from being ranked by most national polls to sitting on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble team.

Ohio State scored five runs on only two hits as Illinois starting pitcher Ty Weber went 1.1 innings and walked four batters.

Illinois catcher Jeff Korte (2 for 3, 1 HR) attributed the loss to the Illini giving the Buckeyes simply too much to work with, relating to the team’s four errors.

“We didn’t pitch well; we didn’t play catch around the yard and that’s why we lost,” Korte said. “We beat ourselves.”

The Illini got on the board in the bottom of the third thanks to a Jeff Korte blast over the right field fence for a solo home run, his third of the year.

The Buckeyes tacked on another run in the top of the fourth when second baseman Kobie Foppe flied out to Illinois right fielder Jack Yalowitz, who ended up dropping the ball while trying to throw it. It was still ruled an out, but Ohio State scored as Noah West tagged from third.

In the fifth, left fielder Doran Turchin singled to center field before Korte was walked by Adam Niemeyer. Grant Van Scoy singled to left with one out before Zac Taylor was walked, with the bases loaded, to make the score 6-2.

In the sixth, Foppe (2 of 4, 4 RBI’s) singled to score a run for Ohio State, but Illinois took it back quickly, as Bren Spillane hit his 18th home run of the season in the bottom of the sixth. The shot to left-center field gave Spillane the fourth-most home runs in the Illinois program’s history, though there are still two regular season series left to play.

The Buckeyes dampened hopes of an Illini comeback in the seventh, loading the bases before Noah West doubled down the left field line in a bases-clearing play, to make it 10-3. A throwing error on the play gave the runners plenty of time, and an earlier throwing error from Korte helped load them up originally. 

Illinois got two runs back in the bottom of the seventh, with a Taylor double and an RBI-single for Troike, before Taylor scored on a sacrifice fly. There was no roaring back for Illinois, though, who, despite losing, actually equaled Ohio State’s nine-hit total.

Head coach Dan Hartleb pointed to the team’s uncharacteristically poor defensive play, saying that giving opponents free runs will often cost teams games.

“Friday night (a 6-5 loss), we make a mistake and they get five runs on a bunt defense,” Hartleb said. “Today, we had three errors on bunt defenses, and the pickoff play at first base; the guy was bunting. He’s not going to steal, so we throw a ball down the right-field line on a pickoff play; it’s just not good baseball.”

Hartleb plans to make bunt defense a main priority in practice this week, ahead of a potentially season-defining series at Michigan next weekend, though he is surprised it was an issue at this point in the year. Good or bad bunt defense can greatly alter the course of games, and that’s what Hartleb said happened on Sunday.

“If you watch our practice, we spent so much time on (bunt defense) it’s unbelievable,” Hartleb said. “It’s just a simple, basic thing: if you get an out, you stay away from big innings. And we didn’t do it.”

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