Illini fall to losers' bracket after loss to Gophers

Illini fall to losers' bracket after loss to Gophers

OMAHA, Neb. — Illinois got its best chance to take a piece out of the Big Ten champs early in Thursday night's second-round ballgame.

After Zac Taylor reached base on a fielding error, Illinois' resident slugger, Bren Spillane, lined a single through the right side to put two Illini runners on with one out in the opening frame of its second-round matchup with No. 11 Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.

Only that chance slipped away two pitches later, when Michael Massey grounded into a double play that ended the inning and left Minnesota right-hander Reggie Meyer unblemished.

Meyer settled in and handled the Illinois batters with ease for the remaining eight innings, finishing with a complete-game three-hitter as Minnesota dealt the Illini a 3-0 loss early Friday morning and booted them from the winners' bracket of the Big Ten tournament at TD Ameritrade Park.

Hartleb said prior to Thursday's game he felt left-handed starter Andy Fisher presented a good matchup against a Minnesota lineup that features six lefty batters, but the Gophers (39-13) quickly worked to prove him wrong.

It took Fisher 22 pitches to escape the first inning, costing Illinois two runs in the process; though, he stranded two more with a three-pitch strikeout to end the frame.

Fisher struck out career-best nine batters in seven innings of work on the night, but allowing three runs — including a sacrifice hit in the fifth — was enough to pin the redshirt junior (6-3) with the loss. Sophomore Ryan Schmitt walked one and allowed no hits in two innings of relief.

Meyer (7-3) finished with a career-best eight strikeouts and allowed just six Illini runners to reach base in his 106-pitch shutout.

Senior Luke Petterson led the Gophers' effort at the plate with two hits and two runs, while Toby Hanson added another two hits.

Spillane, the Big Ten Player of the Year, had another quiet night at the plate after his first-inning single, finishing 1 for 4 with two strikeouts after going hitless in four at-bats in the first round against Indiana.

Junior center Jeff Korte and Ben Troike were the only other Illini to record a hit, the latter of whom reached base for the 56th consecutive game with an eighth-inning single. His streak is the now longest active in the nation.

It was the first meeting of the season between the two teams, both of which are looking to impress the NCAA tournament committee for different reasons.

Illinois, which received a small RPI bump from its first-round victory over Indiana, has nothing guaranteed in regards to making the national tournament field and needs as many wins as it can get in Omaha.

On the other hand, Minnesota has now won 23 of its last 26 games to position itself to host only its  second-ever NCAA regional.

Illinois (32-19) will get another shot at improving its resume in a rematch against the Hoosiers (38-16) — who won 6-5 over Michigan State in walk-off fashion Thursday afternoon — at 7:30 p.m. today in the losers' bracket.