By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
May 27, 2022
The mission is now much more simple for the Illinois baseball team following a 7-5 loss to Michigan in the opening round game of the 2022 Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Illinois (31-21) can not lose anymore and may have to win as many as five straight games to win the tournament, the automatic bid and keep its 2022 season going.
Michigan (29-25) crushed three home runs off Illini ace left-handed starter Cole Kirschsieper to race out to an early lead but the Illini’s three two-out RBIs on the evening brought Illinois back to tie the game twice.
Kirschsieper failed to locate his fastball and Michigan took advantage with back-to-back home runs by Clark Elliot and Joe Stewart to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead before a single out was recorded in the game.
“He’s not had very good fastball command at all and Michigan has taken advantage of that when it’s been up in the zone,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said on Big Ten Network during the in-game interview. “He’s elevated and not hit his spots so that’s where we’ve struggled a little bit.”
The Illini sophomore left-hander was finished after just five innings where he gave up four earned runs over 97 pitches. First pitch of this game by Kirschsieper was recorded at 10:54 p.m. CST and the final out of the three-hour, 25-minute game was recorded at 2:16 a.m. the following morning, which was the latest a game has ever taken place at Charles Schwab Field.
Michigan, which failed to pitch effectively throughout the 2022 regular season with the 12th-best earned run average in the league with a team earned run average of 7.03, went to former starting pitchers throughout the season (Chase Allen who got the win and Cameron Weston who got his seventh save) to close out the final four innings of relief work against the Illini.
Illinois got eight of its nine hits on the evening from the bottom five spots of its lineup as Taylor Jackson had a career day at the plate with three hits, two RBIs and a run scored. The only other three-hit game for the senior from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy was April 29th at Indiana. Illinois got four of its five runs off hits with two outs already on the board in the inning.
Hartleb kept his pre-game word by trying to use his quality bullpen pieces of Joseph Glassey (2-2) in a 4-3 deficit in the sixth inning and Tommy Green a 5-4 deficit in the eighth inning.
The game-winning hit to break up a 4-4 tie in the eighth inning was a single to right field by junior left fielder Joey Velazquez, who also plays linebacker and special teams on the Michigan football team.
The loss to Michigan raises the Illini’s RPI ranking above 70 making the automatic bid of the Big Ten Tournament championship an even more necessary item to continuing its 2022 season. Therefore, the Illini will need to begin its unbeaten streak with a game against Indiana (25-31) on Friday evening after the Hoosiers lost in 11 innings to top seed Maryland in a contest that was immediately followed by the Michigan-Illinois game. The Illini have usually started sophomore Riley Gowens in the second game of a weekend series behind Kirschsieper but Illinois pitching coach Mark Allen has several hours to figure out how to manipulate his rotation and bullpen pieces for what the Illini staff hopes is a few more days of action.
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