by: Matt Present
The Illinois Fighting Illini came into Thursday’s game with 27 straight victories. They had gone 53 days without a defeat. But after an encounter with Brian Shaffer the Illini find themselves in the Big Ten Tournament losers bracket.
The true freshman tossed seven innings of one-run ball, tying a career high in strikeouts with seven, and leading Maryland to a 2-1 victory. After the Illini strung together three singles in the first to take the early 1-0 lead, Shaffer buckled down. He allowed just three subsequent hits over his remaining six innings, and walked just one batter.
Illinois Doomed by Defense
The Terps took the lead in the top of the second when the Illinois defense let down starter Drasen Johnson. Kevin Martir led off the inning with a single, and then after Jose Cuas reached on an error by Johnson himself, Anthony Papio stroked a pitch the other way, through the left side, bringing home the Terps first run. Nick Cieri then grounded back to Drasen who elected to throw to third base to get the lead runner in Cuas, but the return throw to first by Ryne Roper sailed down the right field line, and Papio scored all the way from first to give Maryland the 2-1 lead.
That was all the Terps would need. In relief Rob Galligan worked a scoreless eight, striking out two, and Kevin Mooney struck out two of his own in the ninth to earn his seventh save of the season.
After late night, Terps Earn a Day of Rest
With the win tonight the Terps get a day off Friday, and will await the winner of (6) Indiana and (2) Iowa. The Terps could use the rest. They have been on the road since traveling to face Northwestern over a week ago. It was no more apparent than in the fifth inning when Martir started trotting down to first on ball three. When he returned to the batter’s box home plate umpire Jim Schaly busted the Maryland catcher’s chops a bit, asking if he was a math major. Martir would go on to walk anyway.
Turn Back the Clock
The game on Saturday will be a 10 a.m. EST start, after the Terps have played back-to-back games ending in the wee hours of the morning. If the Terps win Saturday they will advance to the championship on Sunday. If they fall, they will play an elimination game Saturday afternoon at 6 p.m. EST.