The Illini went to Michigan State with a three-game winning streak and left with the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament.
A tremendous turnaround for a team that started off conference play 1-5 to rattle off 14 wins in their next 17 conference games to finish the year at 15-9, good for third in the Big Ten.
This series win consisted of relatively the same recipe: good pitching and timely hitting to fuel the Illini to victory.
While this team sets its eyes toward the playoffs, it’s important to take note of how the final three regular season games played out, leading Illinois to its 35th and 36th victories of the 2019 campaign.
The Illini rode the bats, not Andy Fisher to a 8-4 win.
The first game of the series started as weird as you could imagine, Illini ace Andy Fisher gave up a first-inning run for the first time all year.
The Illini allowed Fisher to settle in before the hole became larger, as Illinois faced a two run, easily surmountable lead.
Led by power, Zac Taylor and Kellen Sarver got rockets to their respective pull sides and over the fence.
Taylor added to his team lead in homers with 10 while Sarver continued to fill the shoes of reigning National Player of the Year Bren Spillane.
Branden Comia has been phenomenal in the absence of Ben Troike, he tallied three hits and drove in three runs at the top of the order. The freshman is hitting .474 since replacing Troike at shortstop.
Jack Yalowitz tripled and came around to score the go-ahead run in the fourth, and belted two more hits, while Michael Massey picked up a pair of knocks as well. Massey also extended his season long on base streak to 19 games.
Fisher went 6.2 innings and gave up three runs before turning it over to the bullpen to finish it off. The Spartans never quit, allowing the game to remain close to the final outs, even though the Illini won by four runs.
Due to this, Garrett Acton tallied his 18th save of the year, a program record, Big Ten record, and high mark in the country.
There was not as much to cheer about in game two of the three-game set.
Ty Weber took the loss and was chased out of the game early, not making it to the fifth inning after giving up four early runs.
Illinois was stifled offensively by Tyranski, who went the distance and struck out seven in the process of a 113-pitch complete game.
The only offense came from the usual suspects: Massey, Taylor, Cam McDonald and Yalowitz. Michael Michalak knocked a pair of hits and Jacob Campbell had a hit as well.
Massey extended his on-base streak to 20 games.
Michigan State’s Marty Bechina’s three-run bomb in the third provided enough offense for the Spartans.
Ryan Schmitt, Nathan Lavender, and Quinn Snarskis pitched in relief of Weber and surrendered only one run between the trio.
The bats stayed quiet as Michigan State snagged game two.
It all fell into place for the Illini as they defeated Michigan State, 5-3.
As this marked the end of the regular season, it was capped off by a career day from freshman Comia. He clubbed two dingers at the plate and continued his dominance since Troike’s season-ending injury.
Massey extended his reaches base streak to 21 games while Cam McDonald extended his hitting streak to a career-high eight games.
Taylor became the first Illini to record back-to-back 10 HR and 10 stolen base seasons with his third-inning blast.
Speaking of records, Garett Acton’s 19th save of the year marks not only a Big Ten record, but also the most in the nation this season.
Cyrillo Watson grabbed his fifth win of the year as the Illini took their 14th game in their last 18 tries.
Heading into the postseason, the Illini rank No. 23 in the nation and No. 3 in the big ten (15-9) — and ready to make a run.
Tweet(s) of the Weekend
.@zactaylor15 finishes the regular season as the Big Ten leader in stolen bases.— Illinois Baseball (@IlliniBaseball) May 19, 2019
...and he did it while missing 14 games with an injury. He hasn't even appeared enough to rank on the B1G's batting average chart (would be 4th), yet he stole 20 bags and hit 10 bombs. pic.twitter.com/Ev5YLUwn0T
He Said It
“Big day tomorrow,” said head coach Dan Hartleb prior to Sunday’s finale. “It’s all about winning the series, especially on the road. We have to find a way to win the series.”
And they did.
The Illini take in Maryland in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 9 a.m. Wednesday and should they win, they will take in the winner of Michigan and Ohio State the following day. Wednesday marks Fisher’s fifth day of rest, so odds are Hartleb will put his ace on the mound after throwing 81 pitches on Friday.
The Big Ten Tournament is double-elimination and runs from Wednesday through Sunday. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is next Monday, May 27.
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