PHOENIX — Illinois handed the ball to Sean Leland with Saturday's game still in the balance.
Leland didn't disappoint, either. The redshirt senior right-hander delivered 4 1 / 3 strong innings, and the Illini tacked on insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings to put away a 5-2 win over Grand Canyon on Saturday afternoon.
Illinois (9-3), which has recovered nicely after a poor showing the previous weekend, when the Illini dropped three of four games, seeks a series sweep at 2 p.m. today when it sends ace Cyrillo Watson to the mound against the Antelopes (6-8).
"I thought we did a good job," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said after Saturday's series-clinching win. "There are a lot of things we did well and there are a lot of things we need to learn and do better. These guys kept grinding away and grinding away and next thing you know we have a big win."
Cam McDonald's RBI double in the fourth inning helped the Illini to a 3-1 lead, but Grand Canyon answered in the bottom half of the frame on Tyler Wyatt's run-scoring double.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, and seeing Ty Weber laboring on the mound (five walks, two runs, one hit), Illinois turned to Leland, who struck out David Avitia to quash the threat. Leland finished with eight strikeouts, allowing only one hit, to emerge with the win.
Ben Troike posted a 3-for-4 effort at the plate with an RBI and a run scored.
Parker drops semifinal bout. Emery Parker reached the 184-pound semifinal, where he lost 8-3 to Ohio State's Myles Martin, the No. 1 seed, during Saturday night's Big Ten championships in Minneapolis.
The redshirt senior — seeded fourth — knocked off 13-seed Kyle Jasenski 7-3 in the first round before holding off fifth-seeded Cash Wilcke, 3-2, in a quarterfinal match.
Travis Piotrowski (125), Dylan Duncan (133), Eric Barone (157) and Joey Gunther (165) each won their opening-round matches before falling in the quarterfinals and dropping into wrestlebacks.
In men's gymnastics
Illini fall to No. 1. While Illinois put together its season-best team score on Saturday against No. 1 Oklahoma, the Illini fell against the nation's best on the road 425.700-415.700.
Michael Paradise tied a season-high 14.950 to take the pommel horse title, while Alex Diab's 14.800 helped him win the still rings title.
In women's tennis
UI rolls Purdue. Illinois responded after a tough loss at Indiana 24 hours earlier by beating Purdue in a match Saturday afternoon in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Illini won two of three doubles matches and dominated singles, winning five of six, to register a 6-1 victory over the Boilermakers.
The doubles tandem of Asuka Kawai and Mia Rabinowitz continued their good form, improving to 10-3 as a tandem this season, with a 6-4 win.
Kawai and Rabinowitz both emerged with wins in singles, as well, with Kawai taking down Silvia Ambrosio 6-2, 7-5 and Rabinowitz dispatching Seira Shimizu 4-6, 6-0, 6-3. The Illini also notched three-set triumphs from Sasha Belaya, Emilee Duong and Daniela Pedraza Novak.
In women's gymnastics
Illini finish as runner-up. Illinois' season-best score of 196.075 wasn't enough as UIC edged out the Illini for top team honors in Saturday night's home finale at Huff Hall.
The Flames netted 196.150 points in the State of Illinois Classic to finish ahead of Illinois, Northern Illinois (195.750) and Illinois State (195.075).
Led by 9.925s from Mary Jane Otto — in her final home meet — and Shaylah Scott, the Illini tied the second-highest beam score in program history (49.400).