Snow fell this Easter Sunday, and the Illinois baseball team dropped its first series of the season against Iowa after falling, 4-2, in the series finale.
The Illini got runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth inning. Junior outfielder Doran Turchin approached the plate as the potential winning run with Illinois trailing 4-2.
After running the count full and getting the hopes up of the cold Illini faithful in the crowd, Turchin struck out looking to sophomore pitcher Grant Leonard to end the game, and give Iowa the series win.
For Illinois (17-7, 4-2 Big Ten play), this was the first series loss of the season the team.
“We’re 4-2 in the conference so we’re in the upper half,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb. “We’ve done a good job, we’ve played hard, we’ve competed. Just got to keep getting better and move forward.”
Illinois put the first two runs of the game on the board after getting back-to-back RBI singles from junior second baseman Michael Massey and Turchin in the first inning.
Hawkeyes starting pitcher Cole McDonald settled down after the rocky first and kept the Illini off the board for the rest of his outing.
McDonald went 6.1 innings, giving up two runs on five hits while striking out six at the plate.
Illinois sophomore starting pitcher Ty Weber gave his team a solid start of his own, going 5.2 innings, also giving up two earned runs on six hits.
“He did a good job, he was ahead in the count, throwing multiple pitches for strikes,” Hartleb said. “Last inning, may have run out of gas a little bit, but we have to come out of the bullpen and do a good job as well.”
Weber was pitching a 2-0 shutout until the Hawkeyes finally got to him in the sixth inning. Weber loaded the bases with two outs, and Iowa third baseman Lorenzo Elion took full advantage with an RBI-single to right field, scoring two runs in the process.
The following inning, the Hawkeyes got two more runs thanks to RBI hits from catcher Tyler Cropley and shortstop Kyle Crowl.
The Illini had three separate rally attempts from the seventh inning through the ninth, but couldn’t convert any of them into runs.
In the seventh inning, Illinois managed to load the bases with two outs, but Massey grounded out to first to end that opportunity. The next inning, the bases were once again loaded and with only one out. Junior third baseman Grant Van Scoy ended the rally and grounded into a double play.
“I liked some of the at bats, I thought Grant Van Scoy hit a ball really hard with the bases loaded in the eighth inning,” Hartleb said. “Nothing you can do that about that, that’s a part of the game.”
Junior first baseman Bren Spillane did everything he could on the day, drawing a career-high four walks and almost a fifth — if a ninth-inning strike call went a different way like he thought it would.
The Hawkeyes took no chances when pitching to one of the hottest hitters in the country, making sure not to give Spillane, who had 12 home runs in his previous 11 games, a pitch he can actually make solid contact with.
“You always want to do what you can to help the team, I guess if you’re not seeing pitches it’s tough to do something,” Spillane said. “Take it as it is and know the guy behind you is going to pick it up.”
The Illini will have a chance to bounce back on Wednesday when they drive up to Bloomington, Illinois, to play the Illinois State Redbirds.
“It’s baseball, some weekends we can run them, some weekends we don’t,” Massey said. “If you look back at the end, we had an opportunity to win every game this week, so we definitely competed.”