CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For Illinois to host regionals, it can’t lose.
Friday night, the Illini refused to.
“We did a good job of finding a way to win,” said Head Coach Dan Hartleb. “Our guys battled and found a way.”
What began as a pitcher’s duel between Illinois ace Andy Fisher and Purdue ace Trent Johnson turned into an extra-inning showdown. The starters went seven innings giving up just one run each but both left the game up to the bullpen that carried the series opener into extra innings.
It took a 12th inning three-run homer from senior leader Zac Taylor to finally overcome the Boilermakers and win 5-2 at Illinois Field.
“Off the bat I thought I got enough of it, but that guy had a nice breaking ball that was a pitch you had to see up,” Taylor said. “I saw it up and luckily landed on it.”
How We Got Here
Illinois got the scoring started when Branden Comia singled to lead off the fisrt inning, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on a RBI single from fellow Freshman Kellen Sarver. Comia made his second start of the season at shortstop in place of the injured Ben Troike.
“When I made mention the fact that Ben was out for the season I said that you hate to lose a player like that, but I felt like Branden could step up and be solid for us,” Hartleb said. “He did a really good job tonight.”
Purdue tied the game back up in the fifth inning when Fisher surrendered two singles to start the inning. The Boilermakers advanced both runners on a sacrifice fly to second and scored on a fielder’s choice to Michael Massey.
Fisher gave fans something to remember in his final regular season home start with the Illini. He pitched 7.1 innings only giving up one run and striking out three. Fisher stepped up to the ace role this year for the Illini, improving his 3.96 ERA in 2018 to 2.53 in 2019.
The bullpen struggled in relief of Fisher, however. Quinten Sefcik entered the game in the eighth and put two runners on base with a walk and a hit by pitch. Garrett Acton continued the rough night entering in the ninth inning and faced three bunts to start the frame that scored the ho-ahead run.
The seniors came to the rescue in the bottom of the ninth when Taylor hit a leadoff single. With the Illini down to their final out Jack Yalowitz hit the game-tying single to send the game to extra innings.
And that’s when Taylor showed up.
Moments That Mattered
Around the bases: Branden Comia did his part to fill in for injured Ben Troike. Comia singled to leadoff the first then forced Purdue shortstop Evan Albrecht to throw to first instead of turning a double play. Comia would score on that single thanks to great base-running to give the Illini the early lead in the first.
Fantastic Fielding: Cam McDonald made an excellent throw to stop a double with one out in the seventh inning. The entire defense has now gone three games without committing an error. This is a great sign for the Illinois entering the postseason considering they will be without the shortstop Troike.
Gone Fishing: Andy Fisher made his final regular season home appearance as an Illini Friday. Fisher received a round of applause from the crowd and a handshake from his teammates when he was removed in the eighth.
He Said It
“I tried not to think of it that way. The first baseman also mentioned it to me right before the anthem and I said ‘No, we’re’ trying to host a regional.’” - Andy Fisher on his last start at Illinois Field
Tweet of the Game
With rain in the forecast, Saturday’s game two against the Boilermakers is scheduled to change. The Illini could start as early as noon.
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