Junior first baseman Bren Spillane has been a monster these last five days for the Illinois baseball team.
After going 8-for-13 with three homers, two doubles and six RBIs in the Illini’s weekend series win against Southern Illinois — which solidified him as the Big Ten Player of the Week — Spillane went off again Wednesday afternoon against California State Northridge.
Spillane went 3-for-4 from the plate, including two home runs, a double, a walk, a career-high eight RBIs and led his team to a 12-7 win.
“Just been sticking to my approach, not trying to do too much,” Spillane said. “It’s just showing up to the ballpark with the same mindset every single day.”
The Matadors jumped up early, however, on the Illini in the top of the third inning.
California State junior outfielder Joey Cooper hit a three-run bomb to right field to give his team a 4-1 lead, which was then extended to five after an RBI-single to right field a few batters later.
Spillane then made his first real impact of the game by knocking a two-run RBI-double to left-center to make it a 5-4 game after junior outfielder Jack Yalowitz hit an RBI-single to right field to start the scoring off.
Sophomore infielder Michael Massey brought Spillane home on an RBI-single to right field and tied the game at five after three innings.
“To give up four runs was dissappointing, but our offense did a great job,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb. “They just came in, there was no panic, everybody had quality at bats... That’s the thing that has been impressive about this team. No matter what situation they’re in, there is no panic.”
The following inning, Spillane decided to put some more runs on the board when he started going yard on the Matadors. Spillane hit a sky-rocket to right field that no one could see until it smacked the scoreboard. The three-run homer put Illinois ahead 8-5 after four innings.
“When I hit it, I know I missed it,” Spillane said. “Then I started looking at the outfielder when he started drifting to the wall and like ‘oh this thing has a chance’ and I looked up and it hit the scoreboard. It was a nice day with the wind for me.”
And in his next at bat, Spillane did it again.
This time sending a two-run rocket to right-center field in the sixth inning to make it an 11-6 ballgame.
Junior outfielder Zac Taylor had himself a strong day at the lead-off spot, going 3-for-5 with a double and two runs. Yalowitz also had a good showing at the plate after previously struggling this season. Yalowitz went 2-for-2, which included an RBI-single in the third inning and three runs.
“He’s been productive even though the average isn’t where you would think it would be,” Hartleb said. “Over time, it’ll get to where it needs to be.”
Illinois racked up 13 total hits in the contest.
The Illini had to go to their bullpen early after freshman pitcher Ryan Kutt lasted two innings. The bullpen took its fair share of shots from the Matadors, giving up four earned runs on seven hits in seven innings of action.
Sophomore pitcher Zach Jones brought some consistency to the mound when he came in at the seventh inning. Jones gave the Illini two shutout innings and struck out two Matadors before junior pitcher Sean Leland came in at the top of the ninth to make the save.
“Guy I thought was sharpest today and threw the best was Zach Jones,” Hartleb said. “He commanded the zone well, three pitches for a strike, he was impressive.”
After picking up its 12th win of the season, No. 24 Illinois will be traveling to Evanston, Illinois, to face the Northwestern Wildcats in a weekend series.
“Every game is really, really important if you start looking at RPI, you just have to win every game. There isn’t one game that is more important than the other,” Hartleb said. “Big win for us today, doing a lot of things well and it’s always nice heading into a conference game with a win, but we just have to take one game at a time.”