CHAMPAIGN — After spending the first month of the season on the road, Illinois baseball returned home with style Saturday.
The Illini (12-3) earned a pair of 5-4 wins in a doubleheader against Southern Illinois, using late offense to key a strong first showing at Illinois Field.
Freshman Jason Campbell delivered the first victory with a walk-off sacrifice fly in the home opener, the fifth straight home-opening win for the Illini.
Michael Massey homered for a third game in a row, while Centennial graduate Kellen Sarver tallied three hits to lead Illinois.
Similar heroics were needed for Illinois in the second game after the Illini allowed four unearned runs in the seventh inning to squander a 3-0 lead.
Jack Yalowitz tied the game with an RBI double in the eighth inning before Illinois worked the bases loaded and scored on a passed ball to make it 5-4.
Cam McDonald and Grant Van Scoy each notched three hits, while former Parkland hurler Garrett Acton pitched a clean ninth inning to earn his sixth save of the season.
Illinois, which is off to its best 15-game start in the past 30 years of program history, will look to earn its fourth series sweep in its first five weekends in today's 1 p.m. finale against Southern Illinois (10-7).
UI splits twin bill. Saturday's doubleheader at the LMU Tournament was two outs away from being a total loss for the Illinois softball team.
After the Illini suffered an 11-1 run-rule shortened loss to No. 2 Oklahoma, they trailed tournament host, Loyola Marymount, by one run with one out in the seventh inning of Saturday's second game in Los Angeles.
Illinois (15-5) rallied for the game-tying run, however, with pinch runner Zaria Dunlap scoring after Kailee Powell reached on an error, forcing extra innings. The Illini took the lead for good in the eighth inning when Carly Thomas hit a two-run homer and Maddison Demers added an RBI single en route to a 5-2 extra-inning victory over the Lions.
"Our first game was tough to take because we expect to win every game," Illinois coach Tyra Perry said. "We strayed from our philosophy at the plate and took too many strikes. I challenged the team to go back to what has been successful for us versus LMU. I felt like we were more (quality at-bats) focused, especially in the later innings and it paid off."
Demers' solo homer accounted for the Illini's only run against the Sooners (25-2). Arcola native Taylor Edwards (1-1) was tagged for the loss against OU after allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk across three innings.
Sydney Sickels (9-2) was the winning pitcher against LMU (16-11), giving up two earned runs on nine hits and one walk, while striking out five in a complete game.
Illinois wraps up its stay at the Los Angeles-based tournament at 12:30 p.m. today against Cal Poly (6-20).
In swimming and diving
Kuhn bound for NCAA meet. A year after narrowly missing a chance at an NCAA Championships berth on platform diving, Ling Kuhn didn't miss out this time.
The Illinois senior diver amassed a combined 483.10 on the event at the Zone C Diving Championships on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind to qualify for the NCAA meet. Kuhn — who finished 11th overall, just inside the top 12 cut — is the first Illini diver to advance to NCAA's since 1992 and the first ever to do so on platform.
"(Saturday) I really had to come back and remember all of my training and that I really needed to just do what I do in practice," said Kuhn, a Bloomington native. "It really all came together and (Morgan J. Burke Aquatic Center) is kind of my home pool almost so it was kind of fun to do it here."
In men's gymnastics
Illini suffer pair of defeats. A four-point lead heading into the final rotation wasn't enough of a cushion for the Illinois men's gymnastics team. Instead, the Illini lost 409.550-406.900 to No. 4 Michigan and 407.800-406.900 to No. 6 Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pa.
Third-ranked Illinois (9-5) did have three gymnasts pick up event titles, including Clay Mason Stephens (14.700) on floor exercise, Alex Diab (14.750) on still rings and Johnny Jacobson (82.000; career best) in the all-around.
The Illini posted a season-best 69.100 on still rings in their first event, but a couple of falls on parallel bars in the end cost them the win.