Baseball loses first game to Illinois in pitchers' duel

By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 11, 2014

CHAMPAIGN — After losing the series to Minnesota last weekend and falling to Notre Dame on Wednesday, the Michigan baseball team needed any spark it could get.

But the Wolverines (4-5 Big Ten, 14-18-1 overall) couldn’t find their footing, losing to Illinois, 1-0, on Friday. Sophomore left-hander Evan Hill surrendered only one run but was tagged with the loss.

The Fighting Illini used timely hitting in the fourth inning to start the scoring and never looked back. Michael Hurwitz scored the game’s only run off of Reid Roper’s single up the middle.

Illinois (5-1, 17-11) nearly added another run in the frame, but junior outfielder Jackson Glines gunned out a charging Jason Goldstein from deep center field.

The Fighting Illini experienced déjà vu in the next inning when Adam Walton was thrown out by sophomore outfielder Jacob Cronenworth. After the call, senior catcher Cole Martin spiked the ball, trying to do anything to give Michigan momentum.

“It’s unbelievable,” Hill said. “I gave up seven or eight hits there, and that is frustrating. But when your defensive is coming through for you, it makes it easier to go back out there and attacking hitters again.”

Glines had two hits, but the Wolverines couldn’t find any rhythm at the plate, tallying just six in total.

“Our guys are really working hard and staying with the approach,” Kenny said. “You really hope it pays off at some point.”

Hill, who had tossed 12.2 consecutive scoreless innings before Friday, found his rhythm early, throwing seven strong innings. It wasn’t enough, though, as he got no run support.

Things looked promising for the Wolverines in the eighth inning when sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes slapped a single. But on the next play, Cronenworth popped a ball to shallow left field, and Roper made a diving catch to strand Maezes.

Lost in the anemic hitting was Hill’s success at eliminating runners from the basepaths. He picked off two runners and is now the Big Ten leader with six. Before the game, Illinois had only one runner picked off all season.

In the fourth inning, Hill used a slide-step pickoff move to strand Illinois’ leadoff hitter and get the first out of the inning.

“We consistently come out to practice every day expecting to work on bunts and picks for at least an hour,” Hill said. “It pays off in the field. We hold runners really well. I picked off a couple runners today, which really helped me because I didn’t have my best stuff.”

Added pitching coach Sean Kenny: “In general, holding runners is something we place a lot of importance on. It’s something we place a lot of emphasis on. (Hill’s) our best guy at it for sure.”

From the first pitch, Illinois pitcher Drasen Johnson controlled the game’s tempo. The right-hander threw seven innings of scoreless ball, punching out two and allowing just four hits.

Left-hander Tyler Jay relieved Johnson in the eighth inning and countered Michigan’s left-handed saturated lineup, earning the save. Jay allowed two hits and punched out two, including striking out junior pinch hitter Kevin White for the last out.

Junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik will take the mound for the Wolverines Saturday, but to finally earn a win for Michigan, the bats need to come alive regardless of his performance on the mound.