MINNEAPOLIS — Illinois baseball coach Dan Hartleb’s squad has been in Minnesota for what seems like an eternity, but it isn’t ready to go home yet.
“We have had our backs against the wall the whole second half of the season, but we have responded very well,” Hartleb said after the fifth-seeded Illini lost 3-2 to the fourth-seeded Gophers in their Big Ten tournament opener Wednesday at Target Field. “This is the best the conference has ever been, and we are as good as any team in it, so we will respond.”
Illinois (33-17), which concluded its regular season against the Gophers (31-20) at Siebert Field, was scheduled to play sixth-seeded Michigan at noon Thursday in a losers’ bracket game.
“We did a great job getting runners on base, but we did not have very good at-bats with runners in scoring position,” said Hartleb, whose team stranded a season-high 13 runners. “We missed too many opportunities and did not have quality swings when we needed them.”
The Illini led 2-0, but they were held scoreless during the last seven innings.
Kevin Duchene, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, struck out five and pitched into the seventh inning.
“We did a very good job on the mound,” Hartleb said. “I was very pleased with Kevin Duchene’s outing.”
The Gophers won on a bases-loaded walkoff single.