In a weekend where hits and runs have been hard to come by for Illinois, Bren Spillane has come through when needed.
Illinois’ first baseman hit his Big Ten-leading 16th home run of the season in the eighth inning Saturday, breaking a 1-1 tie and powering the No. 25 Illini to a 3-2 victory over Grand Canyon.
“That’s just the thing Bren gives us,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb. “He’s a guy that can run the ball out of the ballpark at any time. It’s a tough day to hit the ball out, and he took it out.”
Spillane provided Illinois’ only offense with a solo home run in the Illini’s 5-1 loss in the series opener Friday night.
“It feels good,” Spillane said. “You feel under control. It’s the confidence you want to have going up there.”
Spillane missed the three games prior to Friday night with an ankle sprain, which came on the heels of being named Perfect Game/Rawlings and D1Baseball’s Midseason National Player of the Year.
“I got the best seat in the house,” said second baseman Michael Massey, who bats behind Spillane. “It’s unbelievable what he’s doing. He’s the best player in college baseball.”
Starting pitcher Quinn Snarskis kept Illinois in the game throughout the afternoon. He retired the first four batters he faced before third baseman Zach Malis hit a second-inning single, and his breaking ball was working well early in the game.
Snarskis thought he struck out Grand Canyon’s nine-hole hitter Preston Pavlica with two outs in the fifth inning, but a breaking ball was called a ball. Pavlica continued the at-bat and lined a single to the left of a diving Michael Michalak at third, bringing home Griffin Barnes and tying the game at one.
Ryan Schmitt relieved the right-handed Snarskis after six innings, five hits and one earned run. Schmitt, after not recording out in a start versus Valparaiso on Tuesday, pitched a scoreless seventh inning.
“Quinn did a good job,” Hartleb said. “I’ve been very pleased with how he was able to work out of a jam or two and find the strike zone.”
Zack Jones relieved Schmitt in the eighth inning and worked around a leadoff single by right fielder Quin Cotton, who finished 3-for-4.
Illinois got its scoring going when Grant Van Scoy drew a one-out walk in the third inning. Van Scoy was caught too far off first base and Grand Canyon starter Jake Repavich attempted a pickoff, forcing Van Scoy to head to second. He slid under the tag at second and scored on Illinois’ first hit of the ballgame, a Ben Troike bloop single to left.
Massey followed Spillane in the eighth inning with a double to the gap in left-center field. The second baseman scored on a wild pitch, extending Illinois’ lead to 3-1.
Illinois (24-10, 9-3 Big Ten) only had four hits through the first 12 innings this weekend. The Illini finished Saturday with six total hits.
Closer Joey Gerber earned his 12th save of the season, despite allowing one earned run.
While they only have nine hits through two games this weekend, but the Illini have been able to get on-base with two outs.
“That's something they did well against us last night,” Hartleb said. “And we got some big two-out hits today.”
Illinois went 3-for-11 with two outs Saturday.
Troike’s third-inning RBI single came with two outs.
“Grand Canyon’s a very good team, and each game was going to be a battle,” Hartleb said. “We just found a way to win today.”
Troike’s third-inning RBI single extended his on-base streak to 39 games, dating back to last season. His streak is the longest currently in the Big Ten.
Right fielder Jack Yalowitz recorded his 30th hit of the season with two outs in the fourth inning. Yalowitz entered Saturday’s game with a .228 average after batting .335 in 2017.
Yalowitz was also hit by a pitch in the sixth inning, breaking a three-way tie for second place with his fifth HBP of the season. Troike leads the Illini with nine.
Illinois and Grand Canyon have the rubber match of their three-game weekend series Sunday morning at Illinois Field. First pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m., and the game can be seen on BTNPlus.
“Same effort tomorrow,” Massey said. “They came out last night and got the win. Same effort today and we got a few big hits when we needed it.”
Sunday is also Bark at the Park day at Illinois Field, and fans are invited to bring their good boys to the game.