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Illinois loses Oxford Regional Opener 8-4

Clemson beat the Illini to force Illinois to play win or go home baseball.

The Illini’s road to Omaha is underway with a bumpy start, as Illinois dropped game one of the Oxford regional against Clemson eight to four

After two straight losses in post season play, the Illini were unable to end the losing streak as Clemson’s timely hitting got the best of Illinois in the orange and blue.

The pitching staff surrendered 12 hits and issued 10 free passes.

The long ball shortened a good start from Ty Weber. Weber was taken deep twice in the third inning before recording an out. The latter was a two run shot from Grayson Byrd to put the Tigers on top four to two, and they never looked back.

Weber rebounded and had the defense to thank as Michael Massey and Comia spun a nifty double play to get him through four, but that was it for him. The right hander finished with four innings pitched, giving up four runs before turning it over to Nathan Lavender and the well-rested Illini bullpen.

Head coach Dan Hartleb opened a revolving door on the mound after taking out Weber. Lavender, Sean Leland, Quinten Sefcik, Josh Harris, Tyler Engel and Aidan Maldonado all pitched. As a collective unit, the bullpen gave up four runs in five innings.

The seventh inning was where Clemson broke the game open. The Tigers plated three runs in the inning off of a combination of Illini pitchers, and tallied one more in the eighth to put the game out of reach.

Davis Sharpe came out of relief and went 6.2 innings of one-run baseball. The only run scoring on a wild pitch in the ninth inning. Typically a starter, Sharpe came in and dominated Illinois, striking out four batters.

The Illini could not come up with the big hit. They left eight runners on base, including a bases loaded situation in the sixth that resulted in a zero on the scoreboard.

Small ball was the way the Illini did manufactured their runs. In the third, Zac Taylor reached base and stole second. Since he was in scoring position, Taylor scored on a Cam McDonald single. Yalowitz followed McDonald with a beautiful bunt hit that forced Clemson starter Jacob Hennessy out of the game.

Branden Comia was a huge plus for the Illini. Comia started the Illini offensively by ripping a double and coming around to score, and in his next at bat, he drove in a run.

Comia has been everything Illinois has asked for in its freshman middle-infielder. Comia hit near the top of the order and played second base until Michael Massey returned to the field after missing 29 games. Then, in the middle part of the season, Comia unselfishly sat on the bench with what Hartleb has praised as a great attitude.

His number was called again when Troike was injured on May 4th. Since the injury to the Illini shortstop and lead off man Troike, Comia has started the following 10 games (including vs Clemson) at both shortstop and the top of the order.

Comia has hit over .300 since returning to the Illini lineup on a regular basis, including seven RBI and two bombs.

Moments that mattered

THUMBS UP- Junior Ben Troike has been sidelined with a thumb injury since the Indiana series (May 4) and was expected to miss the remainder of the season. Troike was listed in Dan Hartleb’s lineup at designated hitter either as a decoy to Clemson or suffered a set back prior to his first at-bat. Casey Dodge pinch hit for Troike and then became the game’s designated hitter.

Follow the leader- In each of the first three innings, the Illini leadoff hitter reached base and later scored.

Catching Carousel- Freshman Jacob Campbell caught the first five innings but was removed after it looked as if he was either throwing up, or bleeding in some way, shape or form. Senior Jeff Korte took over duties behind the plate in the top of the sixth, and nabbed the first runner that got on base trying to steal.

Close, but No Cigar-Grant Van Scoy got things going in the sixth with a leadoff single. A Casey Dodge sacrifice bunt, a Jeff Korte single and a Branden Comia walk later, the Illini had runners on first and third with one away as their best hitter Massey came to the plate. Massey grounded in to a beautifully turned double play to end the threat.

Tweet of the game

He Said It

“We have to regroup,” said Hartleb. “I feel really good when Andy is on the mound. I know he will go out and give us a great outing. We’ve bounced back all year.”

Up next

The Illini will take on the loser of Ole Miss and Jacksonville State on Saturday at noon on ESPNU. If they lose that game, their season is over. They will roll out their ace Andy Fisher on the mound. If they win, they play the loser of Clemson and the winner of Ole Miss and Jacksonville State for a chance to keep their season alive, most likely with Cyrillo Watson on the mound. From here on out, it is win or go home for Illinois.