Gophers baseball returned to play on Sunday after a late-week snow storm postponed the scheduled Friday and Saturday games.
Minnesota (14-18, 6-5 Big Ten) dropped both games of the double header against Illinois (22-11, 3-5 Big Ten) at Siebert Field on Sunday. The Gophers lost the first game 4-2, before suffering the worst loss of the Big Ten season 13-3.
"[We've] got to pitch better. And we've got to do a better a job of putting the ball in play," said Gophers' head coach John Anderson. "They have an experienced team, and it shows."
In the series opener, the Gophers took an early lead and never trailed for the first six innings. The the Fighting Illini scored in the top of the seventh inning to make it 3-2. Minnesota couldn't respond, and Illinois won the first game of the day 4-2.
Minnesota started the scoring when Gophers' second baseman Zack Raabe hit a single in the bottom of the second inning to score third baseman Jack Wassel, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Starting pitcher Max Meyer allowed three hits in the top of the third inning, and Illinois' outfielder Zac Taylor capped the hits off with an RBI single to tie it 1-1. Meyer let up nine hits and three earned runs in his outing.
Gophers' shortstop Jordan Kozicky responded in the bottom of the inning by hitting a solo home run, taking a 2-1 lead. It was Kozicky's sixth home run and 32nd RBI of the season.
"I think I've been taking my at bats more seriously," said Kozicky, who had 38 RBIs all of last season. "Even in a game like this when we're down by that much. Still competing and grinding every at bat."
Illinois' shortstop Ben Troike hit a double to the left field wall to score one runner from third base, and tie the score 2-2 in the top of the sixth inning. In the seventh inning, Fighting Illini freshman Cam McDonald hit a single to the gap in left-center field to let Taylor jog in to home plate for his team's first lead of the game, 3-2. Taylor hit an RBI single to score the insurance run in the top of the eighth inning, and the final score was 4-2. It was the first Big Ten series opening loss of the season for Minnesota.
Largest Big Ten loss of the season
The Gophers gave up six runs in the fourth inning and walked 11 batters total as Illinois blew the doors off of the second game, taking a 13-3 victory. The umpire had to stop the game to warn players who were trying to rile up members of each opposing team.
"Chirps are definitely part of the game. That was a little bit hostile I would say," said Kozicky. "To a certain extent it's all fun and games, but I think we just got to focus on our guys and beat them on the scoreboard, not on the chirping side of things."
The umpire ejected assistant coach Ty McDevitt from the Gophers dugout in the top of the seventh inning.
Minnesota pitcher Jake Stevenson started the second game, and let up a solo home run to Illinois' center fielder Zac Taylor in the first inning. Gophers' center fielder Ben Mezzenga almost robbed the home run, but he couldn't make the snag, and his glove fell over the fence.
In the top of the fourth inning, Gophers' catcher Eli Wilson couldn't block Stevenson's wild pitch when the bases were loaded, and Illinois' first baseman Kellen Sarver scored for a 2-0 lead. Fighting Illini infielder Grant Van Scoy hit a ground ball to Kozicky at shortstop. Kozicky threw to third base for the tag out, but third baseman Jack Wassel couldn't get the glove down in time, and meanwhile left fielder Cam McDonald ran home from third for a 3-0 lead. Stevenson gave up four more runs including a run scored when he walked a batter with the bases loaded.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Kozicky scored on a balk, and left fielder Andrew Wilhite grounded out for an RBI driving in first baseman Cole McDevitt. Wilhite had both RBIs for the Gophers in the second game.
Usual catcher Wilson had two errors in the top of the seventh inning when he was playing second base. He missed a ground ball right to him first, and later missed a fly ball in shallow right field, allowing two to score. Illinois scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh, and then one in each of the eighth and ninth innings to make it 13-2. Wilhite doubled in the bottom of the ninth inning to drive in outfielder Eduardo Estrada Jr., and the inning ended with a 13-3 score.
"I wanted to get Eli out from behind the plate. I didn't want his bat out of the game," Anderson said. "We took a chance. It didn't work out."
Illinois' Kellen Sarver walked five times in the game, and he hit 1-1 with an RBI single.
Minnesota will finish the three-game series with a final matchup with Illinois on Monday at noon.
"We're just going to literally compete like it's a College World Series game," Kozicky said. "We're going to play tomorrow's game like it really matters, and it does in terms of the Big Ten standings."