Two outs, bottom of the sixth inning.
IU junior starting pitcher Jonathan Stiever was flawless until that point in the game, and was set to get out of a jam as a ground ball rolled toward sophomore shortstop Jeremy Houston.
Houston scooped up the ball with ease, but his throw to first base sailed to the right of junior utility player Matt Lloyd, allowing a pair of Illinois runs to score and extending the inning for the Fighting Illini.
That error would snowball into an offensive outburst for Illinois, as it defeated IU 7-1 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I just gotta get back and focus on the hitter,” Stiever said of the errors. “There’s nothing I can do to control the outcome of everything, so just focusing back on the next hitter and knowing that you can't be afraid to keep having them put the ball in play because they're going to make the plays when they need to.”
Stiever was solid for the Hoosiers on Wednesday, giving up three runs, none earned, on three hits over six innings. However, he was still tagged with the loss in the box score.
This loss marks the fifth time Stiever has given the Hoosiers a quality start, allowing less than four earned runs over at least six innings pitched, in a game IU would go on to lose this season. It’s the third time Stiever has been given the loss in such a game.
After Houston’s error, IU senior outfielder Logan Sowers committed an error in the next Illinois at-bat, allowing a third unearned run to score as Sowers dropped a fly ball.
“I've coached Logan, started and played him every game of his career pretty much and that's the first time I've seen that,” IU Coach Chris Lemonis said. “It’s just a tough two plays for us, but we'll bounce back.”
In the bottom of the seventh inning, junior pitcher B.J. Sabol entered the game for IU, but he couldn’t slow down the Illinois offense. He gave up a run on a single by sophomore infielder Ben Troike, and then three more when sophomore infielder Michael Massey hit a ball over the fence in right field to put the Fighting Illini up 7-0.
It was a difficult day for the Hoosier lineup offensively, as it managed just two hits.
Illini starter Quinn Snarskis dominated early, as he carried a perfect game into the fifth inning. In the top of the fifth, IU loaded the bases with just one out, but failed to score a single run, missing one of its few opportunities to score on the night.
The Hoosiers scored their only run in the top of the eighth after junior catcher Ryan Fineman hit a double down the right field line, took third base on a wild pitch and crossed home plate on a ground ball from junior outfielder Logan Kaletha.
Following the loss, the Hoosiers will move to the loser’s bracket and it will be win or go home from this point on in the tournament.
IU will return to the diamond at 2 p.m. on Thursday against the eighth-seed Michigan State Spartans.
“These young kids are resilient,” Lemonis said. “An old coach like me is not as resilient, but these kids will wake up and be ready to go.”
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