By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
May 23, 2023
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
Veteran members of the Illinois baseball program have to begin to feel irritated seeing Charles Schwab Field in Omaha.
Illinois just lost its sixth consecutive game in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament and haven’t been on the winning side of a game in that event since May 25, 2018. The Illini dropped into the losers bracket following a 4-3 defeat at the hands of No. 2 seed Indiana Tuesday afternoon.
“In tight games, to be a really good team, you have to do the little things and we simply didn’t do that today,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said in his WDWS post-game interview. “We talked before this game about not hitting balls in the air because the baseball just doesn’t travel well here and we did exactly that with 13 fly outs.”
Illinois (25-26) got on the board first in the fifth inning thanks to a double to right-center from senior third baseman and leadoff hitter Brandon Comia. The Illini got a spectacular first four innings from junior right-hander Jack Wenninger as the Murray State transfer was able to scatter five hits in his first 70 pitches of an outing on just four days of rest. However, Wenninger (6-4) began to find complications in the fifth inning when a run-scoring single by Hoosiers catcher and ninth hitter Peter Serruto was followed up by back-to-back walks. Indiana (41-16) would take the final lead of the ballgame on a fielder's choice groundout by Big Ten Freshman of the Year selection Devin Taylor. The Hoosiers are projected by both d1baseball.com and Baseball America to be at-large selections when the NCAA Regionals bracket is revealed on Memorial Day afternoon.
Illinois was able to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the ninth inning after a throwing error by Hoosiers shortstop Phillip Glasser on what should’ve been the final out of the contest on a routine ground ball by Cam McDonald plated two runs for the Illini. Drake Wescott, who has seven home runs since April 29, could only produce a lazy fly ball to left field to send Illinois into the losers bracket of the league tournament for the third consecutive time (2019, 2022, 2023).
Illinois will try to keep its season alive, as the Illini need to likely win the event to earn the league’s automatic bid to play in NCAA Regionals, when they play Michigan at 7 p.m. CST on Big Ten Network. The Wolverines lost 13-3 to No. 2 seed Iowa earlier in the day in a eight-inning, run-rule contest.
"We competed don’t get me wrong but we got to rebound tomorrow and get it done,” Hartleb said. "This thing is still wide open and we have to go out and compete tomorrow."
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