Cappetta’s 8 hits key Illini series win at Northwestern

The Pete Cappetta tour de resurgence continued Sunday at Northwestern, as the second baseman guided Illinois to a series-clinching 9-4 win over the Wildcats by going 4-for-5 at the plate with three RBIs.

Since moving into the leadoff spot April 15 at Michigan, the previously struggling Cappetta has taken full advantage of his second opportunity, blasting 16 hits for an average of .432 in those 10 games.

Cappetta, who has found a niche on the right side of the infield despite being named Best Outfield Arm by College Baseball Insider this offseason, scored five runs in the three-game series and drew rave reviews from Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb.

“Pete was awesome,” Hartleb said. “He was really good, set the table all weekend. I want to say he scored in the first inning of all three games, so put pressure on them early. We scored in all three first innings, and that’s what you need out of a leadoff hitter.”

Cappetta, a native of west suburban Lisle, Ill., and one of the many Illini with family in attendance throughout the weekend, did in fact score in the first inning of all three games.

The senior reached base by way of single, walk and hit-by-pitch for a sort of leadoff hitter’s cycle.

As for the difference between his cold first stint in the lineup and now, Cappetta said it was a matter of letting loose in attacking pitchers.

“Just getting a lot of good pitches to hit and making sure that when I do get a good pitch to hit I hit it hard somewhere,” Cappetta said.

“Being really aggressive at the plate, I think, has helped me a lot recently.”

Hartleb mentioned he was impressed with Cappetta’s plate discipline in particular, which unlike his three-run home run in Sunday’s second inning, doesn’t appear in the box score.

“It’s not just that he’s getting hits, but he’s seeing pitches early, lets the players see some different pitches, goes deep into counts, and he’s drawing walks,” Hartleb said.

The win Sunday came after a bullpen meltdown gave way to a 9-2 loss in Friday’s series opener and a 6-3 win Saturday that saw the Illini (17-22) tag starter Luke Farrell for four runs before recording an out.

With the pair of wins, the Illini moved into a fourth-place tie with Minnesota in the Big Ten race with nine conference games remaining in the schedule.

Corey Kimes threw seven innings Sunday for just the second time this season and the first since a March 19 win over Saint Louis.

Kimes, whose bulky 6-4 frame has earned him the nickname of “The Big Show” was magnificent through six innings, holding the Wildcats (14-25) scoreless on just four hits before allowing two runs in the seventh.

“Corey’s very capable of being dominant and he did a very good job of putting zeros on the board,” Hartleb said. “Would still like to see him work ahead in the count more, he walked a lot of guys with a lead … That’s something we need to improve on, but at the same time he did go out and threw good pitches at times and induced some double plays and got out of some innings, so pleased with the win.”