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Illinois baseball season ends on wrong side of regional rout

Jun. 3—LEXINGTON, Ky. — The play that sent Illinois baseball down the path to elimination in NCAA regional play Sunday was actually a poorly placed bunt.

Indiana State's Josue Urdaneta popped up his sacrifice attempt, but it went far enough to drop just beyond the outstretched glove of Illinois catcher Camden Janik. That fluke bunt single loaded the bases for the Sycamores in the top of the third inning. Nine batters later, Indiana State had a seven-run lead.

That was a deficit Illinois might have rallied against during the regular season with a lineup capable of big innings.

A lineup that generated enough offense to average just more than eight runs per game and hit double-digit run totals in 20 different games.

Postseason Illinois was different. The Illini's power bats went quiet, with just two extra-base hits in three NCAA tournament games.

So there was no rally Sunday at Kentucky Proud Park. And no stopping Indiana State, which scored five more runs in the final two innings for a 13-2 victory that sent the Illini home with a season that featured a Big Ten regular season title capped with a short, disappointing postseason run.

Sunday's loss was preceded by a 6-1 loss against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon that saw the Illini only manage six singles against the second-ranked Wildcats.

"We probably did press a little bit," Ryan Moerman said. The Illinois right fielder hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday. That and a double from Drake Westcott in Friday's opening-round win against Indiana State accounted for the Illini's only extra-base hits in the NCAA tournament.

"I don't know, we just kind of got cold, I guess," Moerman continued. "That happens. Not saying we couldn't hit, but we didn't hit to our full potential. And it sucks that it happened at this time of the year, but like I said, it doesn't take away from what all those guys did the whole season."

Sunday's pitching matchup didn't help Illinois (35-21) either. Shoulder/arm soreness kept regular weekend starter Cooper Omans on the bench for a second straight game, and the Illini turned instead to sophomore left-hander Sam Reed, who hadn't pitched in nearly a month.

Indiana State was able to trot out Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year Brennyn Cutts. The Greenup native and Cumberland graduate struggled at the end of the regular season, losing his prime spot in the Sycamores' rotation. But he pitched a complete game Sunday — even coming back for the bottom of the ninth inning after a 30-minute rain delay — and finished up allowing just two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out five among the 117 pitches the right-hander threw.

"Obviously, when you get to this point of the tournament, you need to get good starts on the mound," Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs said. "That is imperative. I thought Brennyn was absolutely dominant. I thought he commanded the zone both sides, threw three pitches where he wanted, when he wanted, and I thought he was the difference."

Reed pitched into the third inning for Illinois, but he was pulled after Urdaneta's bunt loaded the bases. The Illini threw six pitchers against Indiana State, and only Korey Bunselmeyer didn't give up a run by retiring the Sycamores in order in the seventh.

"We had a terrible outing, and that comes down to you walk a couple guys, you hit a guy, and the biggest play was the fact — we talk about this all the time — you have to get an out on a bunt," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said. "We didn't get an out and it always leads to a big inning and it just snowballed on us. You take away that one inning and it's probably a much different game, but you can't take it away. I didn't think those guys gave in at all. Just unfortunate the way it unfolded, and it's part of the game."