No. 25 Illinois is officially having a rough week.
The Illini dropped their series finale against Grand Canyon, 5-3, on Sunday afternoon at Illinois Field.
The loss gave the Illini the series loss and will more than likely mean they will drop out of the top 25. Illinois has loss three of its last four games.
A pitching duel took place between Illinois sophomore Ty Weber and Grand Canyon senior Ethan Evanko.
Weber went six innings while giving up only two runs on five hits and getting the third strike call twice. Evanko had a similiar stat line, going five innings and also giving up only two runs. Evanko struck out four Illini and walked three.
Both pitchers had one rough inning that they more than likely wish they could have back. Weber’s came in the fourth when he started the inning off by allowing a double down the right field line. After a groundout and a walk, runners were on first and third with one out when junior third baseman Zach Malis hit an RBI double to right-center field.
The following at bat, junior outfielder Tyler Wyatt hit a sacrifice fly to put the second run on the board.
The Illini responded the next inning. Junior third baseman Grant Van Scoy led the inning off with a single to left field. Van Scoy advanced to second after a groundout the following at bat.
“Just tried to shorten up today and just have good at bats,” Van Scoy said. “Nice and easy swing, try not to do too much.”
Junior first baseman Bren Spillane didn’t get an opportunity to drive Van Scoy in as Spillane was pitched around and walked. With two outs and runners on first and second, sophomore second baseman Michael Massey gave Illinois some clutch hitting when he hit a double down right field line to get Van Scoy home.
Spillane advanced to third on the hit and later scored when Evanko threw a wild pitch.
The Antelopes almost broke the tie in the sixth inning when they had a runner on second and determined to reach home when Wyatt singled to left. But junior outfielder Doran Turchin denied the Antelopes when he gunned down the runner at home to end the inning.
Grand Canyon took full advantage of a gifted scoring opportunity from Illinois in the eighth inning. Malis continued his impressive day with an RBI double that allowed two Antelope runners to reach home. The following at bat, Wyatt lined a single to left field to bring another run home and give his team a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning.
Sloppy play in the eighth inning
The Illini administered some self-inflicted wounds in the eighth inning. Antelopes’ sophomore outfielder Quin Cotton was allowed to get into scoring position after a single and a throwing error by Van Scoy. Sophomore reliever Zack Jones came in relief for the lefty-on-lefty matchup, but he hit junior Pikai Winchester in the back.
“We need to be sharper,” Hartleb said. “We weren’t and they just took full advantage in that eighth inning.”
Sophomore reliever Ryan Thompson took over the mound duties for Jones, but he couldn’t clean up the play. A wild pitch allowed runners to advance to second and third with only one out. With a scoring opportunity like that, the table was set for Malis, who hit the go-ahead RBI double.
Malis managed to score off the sacrifice fly from Wyatt because a catching error from junior catcher Jeff Korte allowed Malis to advance to third.
“Some of it is just baseball, but at the same time we have to focus in some areas better,” Hartleb said. “We had a couple guys where if you watch what their demeanor was at different times, I’m not sure if we had great focus in those scenarios.”
Rally time comes up short for Illini
Korte and Van Scoy both knocked back-to-back singles to start the rally for Illinois. Junior outfielder Zac Taylor then singled to left field.
With the bases loaded and no outs, it looked like the Illini were posed to bust open the ninth inning, but the morale was dropped after sophomore shortstop Ben Troike hit into a double play. A run did score, but with two outs, a two-run deficit seemed too steep to overcome. It was — as Spillane grounded out to end the game.
“We came back in the ninth and we were one hit away from really busting it open,” Korte said.
Illinois will be back at home on Tuesday when it hosts Bradley University. The Illini then travel to Bloomington for a weekend series that begins on Friday with No. 10 Indiana.
“We pretty much played a better baseball game than them today, they just executed on a higher level than we did,” Korte said. “Tip your caps to them, they’re a good baseball team.”