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No. 22 Illinois falls to Iowa in Big Ten home opener, 8-5

A five-run third inning from the Hawkeyes was the difference maker in the series opener.

A late-game rally never truly developed for the Illinois baseball team (16-6, 3-1 Big Ten) as it fell 8-5 to the Iowa Hawkeyes (15-8, 2-1 Big Ten) on Friday in the series opener.

The third inning broke this game open for the Hawkeyes, picking up five runs on four hits to acquire a 7-2 lead. The frame was highlighted by a two-run RBI-double by Austin Guzzo. Starting junior pitcher Quinn Snarskis had to be pulled in the inning after giving up six runs and five hits.

“I thought our guys played with intensity,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb. “Just little things. We didn’t get the good starting pitching we have. Get an opportunity with a runner on third and less than two outs and we don’t have a quality at bat.”

Sophomore pitcher Ryan Schmitt had a strong relief showing once he took over the duties on the mound. Schmitt went four innings, giving up only one run on two hits.

Schmitt, however, couldn’t get any run support from his team during the span. Hawkeyes’ starting pitcher Nick Allgeyer was giving Illinois fits at the plate — until one of the hottest hitters in the country stepped up to the plate.

Junior first baseman Bren Spillane took Allgeyer yard in the bottom of the sixth inning to cut what was a 7-2 deficit to only three. As soon as the crack of the bat could be heard, everyone in the ball park knew it was gone.

For Spillane, that was his 12th home run and RBI number 34 and 35 on the season.

The game started to go downhill for Allgeyer the following inning. Junior Zac Taylor drew a walk out of Allgeyer while the bases were loaded. Illinois couldn’t muster anything else after reliever Zach Daniels forced a double play to get the Hawkeyes out of the inning.

“We had two opportunities, one in the seventh, one in the eighth, with the bases loaded and we couldn’t come up with a hit or score guys,” Hartleb said.

Iowa led 7-5 going into the eighth inning.

The Illini had another rally attempt in the bottom of the eight inning. Illinois managed to load the bases once again, but Daniels still got Iowa out of the jam when he struck out junior infielder Tyler Engel.

“We got to take advantage of those situations,” Hartleb said. “When we got in those situations where the pitcher was in trouble, there were those fews times where we didn’t take quality at bats.”

The Hawkeyes’ batters gave Daniels an insurance run in the ninth inning. Closer Grant Leonard then finished off Illinois to close out the game and give his team the series opener win.

Junior outfielder Robert Neustrom was the man at the plate for Iowa, going 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs.

Sophomore second baseman Michael Massey knocked his third home run of season when he sent a ball off the scoreboard in the second inning.

Illinois will be back in action Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. for the second of three games against Iowa.

“We got to clean up for tomorrow and get our jobs done,” Hartleb said.