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Illinois sweeps Northwestern behind stellar weekend from Bren Spillane

The Illini open Big Ten play with three road wins.

Game 1

Illinois opened Big Ten play this weekend at Northwestern in Evanston with some early damage from junior first baseman Bren Spillane. Spillane, coming off an eight-RBI performance versus Cal State-Northridge, hit a solo homer in the second inning, his ninth of the season, and was followed by a solo shot from second baseman Michael Massey.

The Wildcats got a run back in the bottom of the inning, but an RBI-fielder’s choice from junior outfielder Jack Yalowitz in the following frame put Illinois up 3-1 after three.

Junior pitcher Quinn Snarskis (3-0) was lights out on the mound, going seven full innings and giving up only one earned run, three hits and striking three at the plate. But, once the Illini bullpen came into the game in the bottom of the eight, the Wildcats came storming back to close a 5-1 deficit to only one.

Northwestern second baseman Alex Erro hit a two-run RBI-single to left-center field to start the damage. A sacrifice-fly the next at-bat made it a 5-4 ballgame heading into the top of the ninth inning.

That was the last time the Wildcats got on the board. Junior pitcher Joey Gerber took down all three of the batters he saw to secure the win for the Illini and his fifth save of the season.

Spillane finished the game with a 1-for-2 showing at the plate and was walked three times.

Game 2

Saturday’s game was a different story, but the same result for Illinois. The Illini picked up another 5-4 win, this one in extra innings.

The Illini fell down to 3-0 early after a throwing error turned an RBI-fielder’s choice into two runs in the fourth inning.

But Spillane and Massey came up big once again in the sixth. Spillane knocked an RBI-double to left field to make it a 3-2 game. The following at bat, Massey singled to left, allowing two more to get in and take a 4-3 lead over Northwestern.

Illinois didn’t hold this lead for long due to Northwestern catcher Jack Claeys hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the inning.

The Illini bullpen subsequently shut down the Wildcats’ offense. Junior pitcher Quentin Sefciks threw three shutout innings and stuck out four at the plate. Then sophomore pitcher Ryan Schmitt came in and pitched two shut out innings in the ninth and tenth frames while picking up the win.

Junior outfielder Doran Turchin was the hero for Illinois in the top of the 11th inning as his RBI-double allowed Spillane to reach home and put his team up one.

Gerber, once again, pitched a dominant last inning, sending back all three batters he faced to pick up the save.

Massey had the strong showing at the plate in this game, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run.

Game 3

Illinois (15-5, 3-0 Big Ten) wasn’t done playing extra innings in this series, going to the 10th inning against Northwestern in the series finale.

Both starting pitchers had impressive outings in Sunday’s ballgame.

Illini sophomore pitcher Ty Weber went 6.2 innings and retired 20 of the 24 batters he faced, allowing only one earned run on three hits.

Wildcats’ pitcher Jack Pagliarini nearly matched Weber, going six innings and giving up one run on five hits.

The 1-1 tie wasn’t broke until the eighth inning when Northwestern took a one-run lead thanks to an RBI-single from outfielder David Dunn.

Illinois showed resilience the next inning with junior infielder hitting a sacrifice-fly to get junior David Craan home to tie the game at two.

Then Yalowitz came up big time in the 10th inning, hitting a two-run bomb to right-field to put his team up 4-2.

Sophomore pitcher Ryan Thompson pitched a gem out of the bullpen, going three innings and giving up one hit to acquire the win for the Illini.