CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When Ty Weber is on, there may not be a better starter in the Big Ten.
One night after Illinois’ Andy Fisher hurled eight shutout frames against the top offense in the conference, Weber held No. 19 Indiana’s bats in check for six innings and the Illini clubbed a pair of homers to pull off the 3-1 win on Saturday afternoon at Illinois Field. With the victory, Illinois (31-15, 10-7 Big Ten) clinches its fourth Big Ten series in a row and hands Indiana (30-16, 11-6 Big Ten) its first series loss in six tries this season.
“We’ve beat a lot of really, really good teams this weekend,” said Illinois right fielder Jack Yalowitz. “It has been a matter of staying tough, being composed and beating teams, and we’re really catching off.”
Weber held the Hoosiers hitless through five innings before Justin Walker led off the sixth with a liner up the middle. And those five innings were fairly painless, too, featuring just two walks and one Cole Barr flyout to the warning track in left field.
The junior, who entered the afternoon having allowed seven earned runs in 6.1 innings over his last two starts, worked around Walker and Matt Gorski’s singles in the sixth and stranded them in scoring position.
“This past week I worked on some mechanical stuff in the bullpen,” Weber said. “I just had to speed up my mechanics and footwork and it helped me locate more of the zone.”
Like Fisher on Friday (108 pitches in eight innings), Weber kept his pitch count down (75 in six), allowing him to work into the game and preserve Illinois’ bullpen in its fourth game in five days.
On not working into the seventh, Weber said: “I talked to [pitching coach Drew Dickinson] and that was a case where diminishing from where it was in the first few innings. It was just best since we have such a full and dominant bullpen.”
Aided by home runs from Jack Yalowitz and Michael Massey, Weber’s six shutout innings were more than enough for the Illini to get to that dominant pen. Indiana scored its first run of the series on Elijah Dunham’s solo homer in the seventh off Sean Leland, but Quinten Sefcik and Garrett Acton hurled scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to complete the victory.
Acton earned his 16th save of the season, tying him for the highest total in the country with UT-Arlington’s Andrew Gross. Acton set the program record for single-season saves on Wednesday night against Indiana State.
Indiana, who entered the weekend with the most home runs in the country (77) and most runs in the Big Ten (314), has just six hits and one run through two losses this weekend.
“[Indiana] is a good team,” Yalowitz said. We talked about that earlier in the week, they’re really talented and they can really swing the bats. But we’re a good team too, and they’re coming to us and we had to take it to them.”
Weber’s ERA, as low as 1.74 on April 6 after throwing 7.2 innings of one-run ball vs. Maryland, dipped back down to 2.56 from 2.85 on Saturday. Illinois’ weekends starters — Fisher, Weber and Sunday starter Cyrillo Watson — are now a combined 14-3 with ERAs all under 3.38 in 2019.
“When you get that kind of pitching, you have a chance to win each and every day,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Yalo Goes Yard: WIth Champaign native Tanner Gordon on the hill for the Hoosiers, a large contingency of fans at Illinois Field were cheering for Indiana on Saturday. Jack Yalowitz, with a solo homer in the fourth inning, quieted those in cream and crimson.
Massey Goes Yard: With the way Illinois was swinging Saturday, you would think the Illini were the ones with the most homers in the country. Just one inning after Yalowitz, Illinois second baseman Michael Massey blasted a two-run shot over the right-field wall for his fifth homer of the campaign.
Troike Exits: Illinois shortstop Ben Troike took a pitch to the wrist while leading off the eighth inning. Andrew Dyke took Troike’s base, and Troike will likely be examined after the game.
Illinois took three of five head-to-head matchups from Indiana last season, but the Hoosiers made the NCAA Tournament over the Illini in 2018, despite the similar resumes.
Yalowitz said that frustration has driven Illinois so far this weekend.
“We talked about how we thought we were a better team last year and had a better resume to get into the tournament,” Yalowitz said. “It was kind of a sour taste in our mouth knowing they were playing and we weren’t, so we talked about that. I think that added a little extra motivation to this weekend.”
Hartleb took a more measured approach to the conversation, saying that he spoke with his team throughout the offseason about that frustration, but it is time for the Illini to get back to the Tournament in whatever way possible.
“They haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament, so it’s time to make your own mark,” Hartleb said. “We’ve continued to do the right things and win games and hopefully get ourselves in there.”
TWEET OF THE GAME
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Exit velocity of 107 miles per hour on this bad boy.
First-year Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer spent two seasons in the same position at his alma mater (Wright State) before making the move to Bloomington. In those two years, he lost one Horizon League series (UIC in 2017).
Now, with UIUC’s series win, make it two series losses in three years.
Something about those UI system schools, I guess?
Illinois has a chance to hand Indiana its first sweep of the season Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on BTN+. Cyrillo Watson will get the nod for the Illini.
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