Valdez claims high bar title
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Illinois gymnast Jordan Valdez, who entered the NCAA Championships ranked No. 1 in the nation in high bar, remained at the top of the heap on the night it mattered most.
The redshirt junior scored a near-career-best 15.525 Saturday night to earn a national title at the NCAA Individual Event Finals. Valdez’s personal record of 15.550 was set Feb. 7 in a dual meet at Iowa
The Louisville, Colo., native is the first Illini to win an NCAA high bar crown since Paul Ruggeri captured the second of two straight titles in 2009.
Valdez finished second to Ohio State’s Sean Melton at the Big Ten Championships in late March, but on this night neither Melton nor Buckeyes teammate Jake Martin could keep up with him. Martin scored a 15.475 for second place, while Melton (15.225) finished third.
Valdez also was an All-American in the high bar in 2012, when he finished fifth.
Illinois produced three second-place performers. Freshman Chandler Eggleston was runner-up in floor exercise and vault. Redshirt sophomore C.J. Maestas placed second in still rings.
Pitching hammered. It didn’t take long for the Illini pitching staff’s 25-inning scoreless streak to end Saturday. One day after being shut out, Michigan scored five runs in the first inning and kept adding on en route to a 17-9 Big Ten victory at windblown Illinois field.
Six Illinois pitchers gave up a season-high 23 hits, including nine for extra bases. Michigan’s run total also was the highest against the Illini this season, with the Wolverines scoring in all but two innings.
Against that onslaught, even nine runs and 14 hits wasn’t nearly enough for Illinois (18-12, 6-2 Big Ten), which saw its six-game winning streak end with a thud.
“It wasn’t a very good day for us,” UI coach Dan Hartleb said. “We had opportunities in every aspect but didn’t take advantage of them. When you only put up two zeroes on the board, it is tough to win.”
With the wind blowing out at over 25 mph, the tone was set almost immediately when the second batter of the game, Jacob Cronenworth, belted a two-run homer off Ryan Castellanos. It was the first of two home runs by the Michigan left fielder, who went 3 for 5 and scored four runs.
Castellanos (3-2), who had lasted at least seven innings in four of his previous five starts this season, failed to make it through the first. In two-thirds of an inning, the sophomore right-hander gave up six hits and five runs.
Of the five Illini relievers who followed Castellanos to the mound, only Charlie Naso held Michigan (15-19-1, 5-6 Big Ten) scoreless.
First baseman David Kerian led Illinois’ attack, going 3 for 5 with a home run and four RBI.
Illini edged again. In a repeat of the series opener, Wisconsin handed Illinois another 3-2 loss to complete a 3-0 Big Ten sweep at Madison, Wis.
The Illini rallied from a 2-0 deficit with single runs in the second and third innings but couldn’t score again against right-hander Cassandra Darrah (13-10). The Badgers senior struck out 10 and walked none in a complete-game six-hitter.
Wisconsin broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth when Ashley Van Zeeland beat out a high chopper to second base with two outs, scoring Michelle Mueller from third.
With their fifth straight loss, the Illini fell to 18-18 overall and 2-10 in the Big Ten.
In women’s tennis:
Slow start costly. The Illini were unable to overcome the loss of the doubles point and a slow start in singles, falling 4-3 to Iowa in a Big Ten dual meet at Atkins Tennis Center.