Illini take down Hoosiers to advance

Illini take down Hoosiers to advance

OMAHA, Neb. — For Illinois baseball to have a shot at making it back to Omaha next month, Dan Hartleb knew his team would likely need to win at least once there this week.

Consider it done.

Illinois plowed its way to a 7-1 victory over Indiana shortly after midnight Thursday in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament at TD Ameritrade Park.

"This may be the first time in my career that we start (a game) on Wednesday and win on Thursday," Hartleb joked after the game, which tossed out its first pitch at 9:35 p.m.

The Illinois coach didn't have to wait until the clock struck midnight, though, to get an idea of how things would shape up for his Illini, who also receive a nice RPI bump for defeating the higher-ranked Hoosiers (24th-best in the nation).

A pitchers' duel between Illinois starter Quinn Snarkis and Indiana's Jonathan Stiever, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, kept the game locked in a stalemate for the first five innings as each allowed just one hit during that span.

Only that changed in the sixth inning, starting when Illini outfielder Zac Taylor doubled the first pitch down the left-field line. After Ben Troike's sacrifice bunt sent Taylor to third and Bren Spillane fouled out, Michael Massey walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch.

As Stiever struggled to control his pitches, the Hoosiers (37-16) made matters worse with two crucial errors that allowed three unearned Illini runs to cross home plate.

Illinois (32-18) added another four runs for insurance in the seventh, with Massey blasting a three-run homer over the right-field wall. He was one of six different Illini with a hit in Wednesday's victory.

Snarkis (7-1) fanned three and walked two in a tight 5 1 / 3 innings to earn the win, while relievers Ryan Thompson and Ryan Kutt combined for another three strikeouts.

"It was a really important game for us," Hartleb said. "We're trying to build our resume for the NCAA tournament. You look at what we did against a very good team ... we played really, really well."

The Illini move on to today's 9 p.m. second-round game against top-seeded Minnesota (38-13), the outright Big Ten champions. The two teams did not meet during the regular season, but the Gophers opened up their stay at the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday with a 3-2 win against Michigan State.