Illinois walks off winners, eliminating IU from Big Ten Tournament

The ball kept carrying, unlike most balls do in cavernous, pitcher-friendly T.D. Ameritrade Park.

When it landed, caroming off the glove of outstretched Indiana centerfielder Logan Kaletha, the game was over.

Ben Troike’s one-out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth propelled No. 4 Illinois to a 5-4 victory over No. 5 IU in Friday night’s elimination contest, ending the Hoosiers’ Big Ten Tournament stay after three games.

Now, IU will return home and await its assignment for next week’s NCAA Tournament. The selection show will air on Monday at noon on ESPNU.

With a runner on second and only one out in the ninth, Kaletha and the rest of Indiana’s outfield were playing shallow. But when Troike skied a fly ball toward the left-centerfield gap, Kaletha relied on his speed.

Quick acceleration and the ability to cover ample ground in the outfield are among Kaletha’s gifts as a centerfielder. Even with the ball carrying and carrying toward the warning track, the junior nearly caught it.

Kaletha ran under it, dove and stretched his glove toward the ball’s path of descent, only to feel it bounce off his mitt and to the turf. Jack Yalowitz was already halfway to third base when the ball dropped, and he scored easily to give the Illini the victory in a back-and-forth game.

Indiana, which led for a good portion of the contest, was forced to author yet another comeback after Big Ten Triple Crown winner Bren Spillane unleashed a mammoth three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to put Illinois in front 4-3.

Kaletha delivered in the top of the seventh, connecting on a 2-2 fastball and sending it over the opposite field fence in right-center to tie the game at 4-apiece.

Kaletha and Cole Barr each collected two hits for the Hoosiers.

Indiana certainly had its chances Friday. The Hoosiers collected nine hits, but went merely 3-for-18 with runners on and 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

IU claimed the early lead when Scotty Bradley led off the top of the second with a double down the left field line. Bradley scored the game’s first run two batters later on Wyatt Cross’ sacrifice fly to centerfield. Kaletha extended the lead to 2-0 on his two-out RBI double moments later.

An inning later, Logan Sowers gave IU a 3-1 lead on a solo home run to left field.

IU starter Tim Herrin pitched around trouble for much of his 4 1/3 inning outing. That is, until Spillane got to him in the fifth. Spillane’s no-doubt-about-it three-run home erased the two-run IU lead and put the Illini up 4-3.

Herrin flirted with such danger since the start of the game. In the second inning, Doran Turchin scored on a groundout after whipping a one-out triple to right field. After second baseman Cole Barr started the fourth with an error, Herrin hit two batters in a row to load the bases before escaping the frame when Jeremy Houston turned a quick 6-3 double play to end the inning.

Indiana needed a sizable run in Omaha to make its case as a potential NCAA Regional host. With only one win in three games — the lone victory coming over No. 8 Michigan State — a Bloomington regional is off the table.

So the Hoosiers will be back on the road next week, with a few possible destinations in the cards.

Indiana started the week projected as a No. 2 seed at the Austin, Texas Regional, according to Baseball America. Meanwhile, D1Baseball.com projected IU as a No. 2 seed at the Corvallis, Ore. Regional.

2 comments

  1. As I watched game IU baseball looked pretty average. Earlier in the year I don’t see how they were winning enough to be a top 15 team. Not much really stood out that would make them more than struggling to be average in big ten.

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