April 5, 2014
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern received a brilliant start on the mound from sophomore Reed Mason Saturday, but the Wildcats could not supply the necessary offense to keep up as they fell to Illinois at Rocky Miller Park, 6-2, in 10 innings.
Mason scattered six hits and allowed but two unearned runs against the Illini. He saved Northwestern's thin bullpen in the process, as well, by throwing a career-high nine innings on the hill. The southpaw struck out three and walked only one, but did not factor in the decision on a sunny day at the ballpark.
The Illinois hitters could not solve Mason through the first two frames. NU's hurler retired the first six hitters he faced in order before running into a bit of a jam in the top of the third. Casey Fletcher opened the inning with a base hit up the middle and he reached second when an errant throw on a bunt play failed to cut him down. Following a single that loaded the bases, Will Krug hit a sacrifice fly that gave the Illini a 1-0 lead. Mason stranded two runners on, however, as he got a pair of fly balls to end the threat.
Northwestern's offense went right to work in its half of the third. Center fielder Jake Schieber muscled the first pitch he saw to left field for a double to begin the inning in advance of Jake Straub. Straub looked to be attempting a sacrifice bunt, but his effort was placed perfectly and he reached first base safely with a base hit to set the stage for Zach Jones. The first baseman flipped the first pitch he was offered into right field to plate Schieber and knot the game at a run apiece.
The next batter, second baseman Scott Heelan, gave himself up to push Straub and Jones up 90 feet ahead of designated hitter Jack Livingston. Then Illinois' starting pitcher, Ryan Castellanos, uncorked a wild that allowed Straub to score to give the 'Cats their first lead of the ballgame, 2-1. The home team hoped to add on even more, but Jones was cut down at the plate and Joe Hoscheit flew out to center field to end the inning.
With the help of a nifty 4-6-3 double play to end the fourth and his second strikeout of the day to end the fifth, Mason cruised into the top of the sixth with the score intact. With one out in the frame, a wide throw off a routine grounder narrowly pulled Jones off the bag at first and gave the Illini its first base runner of the inning. A well-executed hit-and-run then gave the visitors runners at the corners before a RBI groundout by one of the conference's top hitters, catcher Jason Goldstein, evened the ledger once more.
Hoscheit gave the Wildcats a man in scoring position with two outs after he doubled past a diving third baseman and down the line in left, but a well-struck ball to center field off the bat of Matt Hopfner found Krug's glove and the 'Cats could not score.
NU turned in some solid defense in the top of the seventh inning. Illinois' left fielder Pat McInerney hit a ball down the line and into left field, but Hoscheit, who was playing in the outfield Saturday for the first time since March 1 at Tennessee Tech, fired a laser into Heelan at second base and eliminated his counterpart. After another single from Fletcher, Mason induced another textbook double play turned by Heelan, Cody Stevens and Jones.
The Wildcats left a combined three runners on base in the seventh and eighth innings against Castellanos and reliever Tyler Jay, respectively. Jay also faced the minimum in the ninth inning as he got a fly ball, a ground ball and a strikeout to force extra innings.
After throwing 100 pitches in his eighth start of the season, Mason was lifted as the game went to extras in favor of senior submarine-style thrower, Jack Quigley. Fletcher grounded out to Jones for the first out, but Ryne Roper reached on an error, NU's third of the day. Roper scored the go-ahead run from second base two batters later when Krug snuck a single through the left side. Illinois added two more runs on a double by David Kerian and another on a RBI groundout to take a 6-2 lead.
Illinois' Nick Blackburn came on in relief of Jay and retired the first two hitters he faced, Straub and Jones, before Heelan kept the game alive with his second base hit of the afternoon. Pinch hitter Luke Dauch was called upon to keep it going even longer, but Blackburn was able to secure his second strikeout and secure the victory for his team.
Northwestern fell to 0-4 in extra-inning games this season, while Illinois won for the second time in three chances.
The instate rivals will return to Rocky Miller Park on Sunday for the finale of the three-game set. Brandon Magallones is slated to start for Northwestern, while John Kravetz will get the call for the Illini. The first pitch is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network. Wayne Randazzo will handle play-by-play duties for the contest and Danan Hughes will provide his analysis.
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