Strong pitching helps Illini seize series win ahead of finale with Hoosiers

Strong pitching helps Illini seize series win ahead of finale with Hoosiers

CHAMPAIGN — The numbers expressed a potentially dangerous picture for Illinois baseball.

Entering a three-game Big Ten Conference set at Illinois Field, No. 19 Indiana possessed the league's top slugging percentage and most runs scored, in addition to leading the nation in home runs.

Through two dates, however, the host Illini have made the Hoosiers look mortal.

After Andy Fisher achieved that in a 4-0 triumph Friday night, Ty Weber did the same Saturday afternoon in Illinois' 3-1 victory in front of 2,779 fans that secured a series win.

"I always think we're capable of doing that," Illini coach Dan Hartleb said of his hurlers mostly silencing a program that was averaging a shade over seven runs per game. "You don't expect it because baseball's so hard, but if you would've told me we would've been ahead in the count, throwing multiple pitches for strikes, I'd say you've got a chance."

Weber never let the Hoosiers (30-16, 11-6 Big Ten) settle in on a mild, breezy day.

The right-hander didn't permit a hit until Justin Walker singled up the middle to lead off the sixth inning. Overall, Weber allowed two hits and struck out two while dealing just 75 pitches in six frames.

The reliever trio of Sean Leland, Quinten Sefcik and Garrett Acton did the rest, with an Elijah Dunham home run off Leland in the seventh the lone bit of Indiana damage.

"I thought our bullpen did a great job," Hartleb said. "It's what they're capable of doing. They came out and stepped up in big situations."

Weber's offspeed pitches didn't generate an abundance of swings and misses, but it left enough doubt in the Hoosier hitters' minds to make Weber's fastball more potent.

"He did a really good job with his fastball down in the zone," Hartleb said. "Really good downward plane (Saturday) with all of his pitches. Just an impressive performance."

Weber's effort outdid a stout showing from Champaign Central graduate Tanner Gordon, who worked seven innings for Indiana and struck out five Illini (31-15, 10-7). What sank Gordon was a pair of pitches — one to Jack Yalowitz in the fourth and another to Michael Massey in the fifth.

Both were smoked on a line over the fence in right field, providing Illinois all of its offense, with Yalowitz' fifth home run of the season giving the Illini a 1-0 lead and Massey's fifth home run this year putting Illinois up 3-0.

"We knew we had our work cut out for us (with Gordon)," Hartleb said. "We were able to capitalize on a couple mistakes, put good swings on them, and that was the difference in the game."

Perhaps the only downside for those in attendance — at least those in orange and blue — was leadoff man Ben Troike departing in the eighth inning after being struck in the left hand with a Connor Manous pitch.

Beyond that, the Illini are trending in the correct direction with just seven games left to play — including today's 1 p.m. series finale with the Hoosiers — before the Big Ten tournament arrives in late May.

Illinois upped its RPI top-50 wins ledger to 11 over the last two days, an important statistic for a club looking to break a three-year NCAA tournament drought.

Pushing that figure to 12 on Sunday afternoon wouldn't hurt the cause.

"We've got two games under our belt, but that doesn't matter," Hartleb said. "You can't come in relaxed. You can come in with a calm, but you've got to have some intensity and go out and find a way to win another game."