The Wildcats started off Big Ten Play on a tough note on Friday, hosting the red-hot No. 24 Illinois Fighting Illini. Despite a strong start from first-year left-hander Quinn Lavelle, the ‘Cats comeback came up just short as they fell 5-4.
Down 5-1 in the eighth inning, the Wildcats (7-9, 0-1 Big Ten) strung together two walks and a single to load the bases for Alex Erro, who delivered with a 2-RBI single. Willie Bourbon added another run with a sac fly, missing a home run by just a few feet, as the ‘Cats cut the deficit to 5-4.
The Illini (13-5, 1-0 Big Ten) jumped out to an early lead in the 2nd inning with back-to-back home runs from Bren Spillane and Michael Massey to put them up 2-0. Spillane, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, moved up to 6th in the country with his team-leading 10th home run.
The ‘Cats got one back with an RBI double from sophomore third baseman Charlie Maxwell in the bottom of the 2nd, but that was the only rough spot for Illini starter Quinn Snarskis. Snarskis only allowed one run on three hits in his seven innings of work, and he improved to 3-0 on the season with the win.
Lavelle settled down after the 2nd, only allowing one more run over the next four innings, and got some help from his defense. Sophomore left fielder Leo Kaplan recorded his first career outfield assist when he threw out Bren Spillane at the plate in the 4th, and Jack Claeys caught his third potential basestealer of the year when he threw out Doran Turchin to end the inning.
Lavelle was removed after giving up a one-out single in the 7th. He finished with a career-high 6.1 innings pitched and allowed three runs on six hits while adding a pair of strikeouts.
Senior reliever Tommy Bordignon, who had been lights out for the ‘Cats out of the bullpen all season, struggled in the 7th inning against the Illini. He entered the game with the best ERA in the bullpen at 3.08, but gave up a single and four walks as the Illini extended their lead to 5-1.
Matt Gannon threw the final two innings for the Wildcats, allowing just one walk and holding the Illini scoreless down the stretch.
The ‘Cats will try to even up the series on Saturday. That game will feature sophomore Hank Christie for the Wildcats and Andy Fisher for the Illini. First pitch is at 2 p.m. at Miller Park. The series concludes at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with Jack Pagliarini for Northwestern and Ty Weber for Illinois. Both games can be found on our mixlr page.