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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Dan Hartleb didn't mince words when he spoke about the importance of Saturday's series finale against Michigan State.

Shortly after his team's 5-2 loss to the Spartans on Friday night, which evened the series at 1, the Illinois baseball coach called Saturday a "big day."

"It's all about winning series, especially on the road," Hartleb said. "We have to find a way to win the series."

The Illini (35-17, 14-9 Big Ten) — with an eye on improving their NCAA tournament resume and their seeding at next week's conference tournament — conclude the regular season at 12:05 p.m. today.

Illinois, which can open the conference tournament on Wednesday as the No. 3, 4 or 5 seed, had a hard time solving Mitchell Tyrankski, who limited the Illini to eight hits and two runs while striking out seven in Friday's complete game.

Michigan State pounced on Ty Weber in the third inning with Marty Bechina's three-run homer and tacked on insurance runs in the fourth and eighth innings.

Illinois briefly climbed to within 3-2 in the fourth, but never drew any closer. Cam McDonald had an RBI single and Michael Michalak added two hits in the loss.

In women's golf

Illini start slow. A challenging opening round left the Illinois women's golf team with some work to do over the next few days at the NCAA championships. The Illini shot 28-over par as a team on Friday and were 17th after the first round at The Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark.

Bing Singhsumalee posted the best score of Friday for Illinois, with a 4-over 77 followed by Kornkamol Sukaree (79), Tristyn Nowlin (80), Crystal Wang (84) and Katie Hallinan (90).

Still, the Illini have two more rounds to make up ground and move inside the top-15 team cut that will happen at the end of Sunday's third round.