The Illinois Fighting Illini have the Northwestern Wildcats' number this year in men's sports. After winning the schools' matchup in football and both matchups in basketball, the fifteenth-ranked U of I baseball team (24-6-1, 5-1 B1G) swept NU (8-22, 2-4 B1G) in a weekend series in Champaign, completing a regular season sweep of the 'Cats across the three sports. We send our gratitudes to women's soccer and volleyball for helping preserve Northwestern's athletic dignity against its rivals to the south this season.
Winners of three straight headed into the series, the 'Cats were riding a wave of confidence, and almost pulled out a victory in Game 1. NU starting pitcher Matt Portland tossed a gem, going nine innings and scattering six hits while allowing just one run. But he was matched by Illinois starter Kevin Duchene, who also gave up just one run over nine complete. Both were pulled out of the game once extra innings rolled around, and their relievers followed suit, mowing down hitters over the next three innings to keep the game tied at one. But in the top of the 13th (NU played as the home team for this series because of Rocky Miller Park's ongoing renovation), an Illinois leadoff home run and another run tacked on by virtue of an error put the game out of reach, and the Illini pulled out the 3-1 13-inning victory.
The next two games were not so close. In Game 2, Illinois hopped out to a 6-1 lead after three innings and never trailed, chasing NU starter Joe Schindler from the game early. Despite a 13-hit attack from the NU offense, the 'Cats were unable to push many across on U of I starter Drasen Johnson, who pitched 7.1 innings of three-run ball. Illinois won 11-4.
Game 3 was even less close. Ace NU starter Brandon Magallones struggled mightily, allowing eight runs (seven earned) in just two innings and letting the Illini build an early 8-2 lead that they would not relinquish. U of I put up five multi-run innings, 20 hits and three homers on its way to a 17-2 romp.
After taking some time off to lick their wounds, the 'Cats will travel to East Lansing on Friday to start a weekend conference series at Michigan State, a team that's just 15-14 on the year but edged NU 3-2 in a non-conference matchup in February.