Despite rough finish, Illini take series from Hoosiers

Despite rough finish, Illini take series from Hoosiers

CHAMPAIGN — Dan Hartleb added a new wrinkle of situational baseball during Illinois' weekend series against No. 19 Indiana. The Illini coach has revamped how he approaches the designated hitter and started junior pitcher Ty Weber in that spot Sunday against the Hoosiers.

For the second time in three games.

Weber, who has zero career at-bats, was never going to the plate. Putting a starting pitcher in that spot is Hartleb's way of pushing off who will really get that at-bat. It's all situation dependent.

Michael Michalak filled the designated hitter role in the bottom of the second inning. The situation? Bases loaded with two outs. The perfect time for the senior utility player batting .276 heading into the game to put the Illini on the board.

Michalak ultimately grounded out to the third baseman, putting the brakes on a potential run-scoring rally. It was the first of several missed opportunities for the Illini in their 9-2 loss in front of another big crowd at Illinois Field, as the Hoosiers (31-16, 12-6 Big Ten) more than took advantage of their own scoring chances.

"It always hurts when you lose on Sunday and you get a bad taste in your mouth," Illinois junior second baseman Michael Massey said. "Taking two of three against a top-25 team, I thought we came out and we played well this weekend. We just didn't get some breaks (Sunday) and didn't swing it well, but two of three, we'll take that and move on."

Massey gave Illinois (31-16, 10-8) several scoring opportunities. He doubled in the third and fifth innings, but was stranded both times. The Illini left seven runners on base and hit just .125 (1 of 8) with runners in scoring position for the game.

That one hit in eight chances was a big one, but it didn't do much to change the game. Down 9-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Casey Dodge cleared the right-field fence for a pinch-hit, two-run home run.

"Didn't have a hit leading up to that, but when you go in in those moments even though the score is 9-0 you've got to treat it as the most important bat you'll get all year," the Illini redshirt junior said. "That's all I tried to do and tried to keep it simple. I put the best swing on it I could."

Illinois managed just seven hits in the game. While four of them came off Indiana starter Andrew Sallfrank, the Illini struck out eight times against the Hoosiers' wins and strikeouts leader. Two Indiana relievers added three more strikeouts to push Illinois' total to 11 for the game.

"They threw some good pitches in those situations, and a couple time I thought we chased pitches," Hartleb said of his team's struggles at the plate with runners on base. "When you have a good pitcher on the mound, you've got to stay in the zone with your aggressiveness. There were times (Sunday) we just didn't do that."

"I just think being aggressive in those situations and knowing that the pitcher is the one that's in trouble is not us," Massey added about the mindset the Illini needed at the plate with runners in scoring position. "It's taking good swings at good pitches and not expanding our zone."

Indiana didn't have any trouble pushing runs across after getting some baserunners. Three swings of the bat delivered the bulk of the Hoosiers' runs, and those three home runs by Elijah Dunham, Cole Barr and Ryan Fineman were all precipitated by at least one free baserunner acquired via walk or hit batter.

"It makes it tough any time you don't have enough command to be around the plate on a regular basis," Hartleb said. "You sometimes make mistakes trying to get back over the plate. That was a struggle for us."