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Clemson Sends Illinois to Losers’ Bracket of Oxford Regional

OXFORD, Miss. — The top three hitters in Clemson’s order scored all eight of the Tigers’ runs to tag the Illinois baseball team with an 8-4 loss in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament’s Oxford Regional. The No. 2-seeded Illini drop to an elimination game Saturday at noon against the loser of Ole Miss against Jacksonville State.

Illinois (36-20) must win four straight games to advance out of the Oxford Regional. After Saturday’s noon game, Illinois would have to win twice Sunday and another game Monday to move on to the NCAA Super Regionals.

Clemson (25-24) had nearly all of its production from the top of the order, with No. 1-4 in the lineup combining to go 10-for-17 with eight runs and seven RBIs. No. 3-hitter Grayson Byrd had three hits, including a go-ahead two-run homer in the third, and No. 4-hitter Kyle Wilkie had four hits and four RBIs.

“I thought the top of their order did a great job, used the entire field,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb. “We weren’t able to overcome that from a pitching standpoint.”

Illinois led 2-1 and scored single runs in the first three innings but could not do much at the plate after that. The Illini had a crucial chance in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out before a well-spun double-play by Clemson ended the threat.

Ty Weber (4-3) started and allowed four runs in four innings before six Illini relievers combined to throw five innings and allow four runs on six hits.

Davis Sharpe (7-4) was the winning pitcher after going 6 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run out of the bullpen. Illinois got to Clemson starter Jacob Hennessy early, requiring the Tigers to go the Sharpe before Hennessy made it two times through Illinois’ lineup.

Illinois will turn its attention to Saturday’s game, when they will start Andy Fisher on the mound.

“We have to regroup,” said Hartleb. “I feel really good when Andy is on the mound. I know he will go out and give us a great outing. We’ve bounced back all year.”

Notes

  • Illinois is in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in program history (1947, 1948, 1962,1963, 1989, 1990, 1998, 2000, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2019).
    • Illinois is 17-22 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including 0-2 against Clemson (2000 Clemson Regional).
    • Illinois is making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last nine years, the best stretch in program history.
    » Head coach Dan Hartlebhas made as many NCAA tournaments in 14 seasons as head coach (4) as the previous 42 Illini seasons combined. Pitching coach Drew Dickinson has been with Hartleb for all four of those NCAA tournaments, while on staff for 10 of Hartleb’s 14 seasons as head coach (8 years as pitching coach, 2 years as volunteer assistant).
    • Illinois has won 14 of its last 21 games, but dropped four of its last five.
    • Illinois started four freshmen: SS Branden Comia, 1B Kellen Sarver, C Jacob Campbell, LF Cam McDonald.