Illinois Sweeps Iowa for Seventh Straight Win, 4-2
May 11, 2014
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The finale at Iowa featured a nearly three-hour rain delay before the Illini sealed the sweep with a 4-2 victory, extending their season-long winning streak to seven games. Illinois (30-17) clinched a top three seed in the Big Ten Tournament and maintained control of second place in the Big Ten at 16-5, marking the best record through 21 games under ninth-year head coach Dan Hartleb.
"It was worth the wait," Hartleb said. "We had the long rain delay, but remained focused. We played well all weekend, and I was pleased with the effort and production. Our pitching staff was outstanding this weekend with only giving up four runs and we got timely hitting on the offensive side."
Illinois earned its fourth Big Ten series sweep for the first time in school history and improved to a perfect 9-0 in conference road games this season (at Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa). The Orange and Blue also notched three Big Ten road sweeps for the first time in school history.
Hartleb collected his sixth 30-win season in nine years and equaled his most Big Ten victories in a year with 16. He achieved it once before during the 24-game Big Ten schedule in 2009 (16-8) and twice during the 32-game Big Ten schedule in 2007 (16-14) and 2008 (16-15). The Illini's current seven-game winning streak is their longest since 2011 when they rolled off eight straight on their way to the Big Ten regular season and tournament title.
Illinois had a power surge to start the final game at Duane Banks Field. Junior Will Krug, who went 2-for-3 with two runs, drilled the first pitch of the game over the left field wall for his first career home run. Iowa tied it at one with an unearned run in the bottom half on a passed ball and throwing error. Sophomore Jason Goldstein put the Illini in front 2-1 with a two-out solo homer to left in the third, marking his fourth blast of the year.
Starter Kevin Duchene was solid through his first three innings, but was wild at the start of the fourth. Duchene hit the first two batters and loaded the bases with a walk, forcing a pitching change. Sophomore Nick Blackburn took over on the mound and limited the damage with a sacrifice fly that tied it at two and a double play that ended the inning.
In the fifth, the Illini put the first two runners on and capitalized on a Hawkeye miscue. Iowa made a pitching change following a Goldstein single and hit by pitch to redshirt-junior Reid Roper. After a hard line out, a passed ball moved both runners into scoring position. Freshman Ryne Roper gave UI a 3-2 lead on an RBI groundout.
Blackburn, who picked up his first win of the season, escaped a tight spot again in the fifth, as Iowa loaded the bases with a single and a pair of hit batters. The Naperville, Illinois, native left the bags jammed with a line out to second.
In the sixth, the Orange and Blue added a run for a 4-2 lead on a sacrifice fly by redshirt-junior Kelly Norris-Jones that brought home Krug, who ripped a one-out triple. Neither team scored in the seventh, as redshirt-junior Rob McDonnell posted his second scoreless stanza. The Barrington, Illinois, native stranded runners at second and third.
Senior Ronnie Muck took care of the Hawkeyes in the eighth with a strikeout-caught stealing double play and a punch out looking. With one out in the top of the ninth, the game went into a rain and lightning delay beginning at 1:42 p.m. and lasting two hours and 55 minutes before play officially resumed at 4:37 p.m.
Even after the long delay, Muck started the bottom of the ninth and recorded a strikeout. Sophomore Tyler Jay notched the final two outs for his ninth save, tying him for the second-most saves in school history in a season.
Heading into the final weekend, the Illini are three games behind first-place Indiana (19-2), which clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, and a half game ahead of Nebraska (15-5), which will finish its series at Michigan State on Monday.
Up Next: Illinois will have an extended stay in the state of Nebraska. The Illini will end the regular season with a three-game series against the Huskers in Lincoln, Nebraska, from May 15-17. The Orange and Blue will be the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a series victory and the No. 3 seed with a series loss. The Big Ten Tournament will be played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, from May 21-25.