The Illinois baseball team's NCAA-best 27-game winning streak is over, and so are Maryland's doubts about its NCAA tournament chances.
With a 2-1 win early Friday morning over the No. 4 Fighting Illini (46-7-1), the top seed in the Big Ten Conference tournament, the fourth-seeded Terps all but guaranteed their second straight appearance in the Division I regionals. Because of the schedule of the double-elimination tournament, they will have a day off Friday at Minneapolis' Target Field and on Saturday face the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Iowa and No. 6 seed Indiana. A win would clinch a berth in the final.
Maryland (38-20), which beat fifth-seeded Michigan State in its tournament opener to advance to face an Illini team that hadn't lost since March 29, was considered a "bubble" team, with a Rating Percentage Index in the 50s and a late-season series loss to lowly Northwestern. Now the Terps can forge ahead knowing that two more wins might mean a tournament championship and and two straight losses might not mean much.
Illinois was not an easy out, although freshman Brian Shaffer (5-1) made it look that way. The Illini entered the tournament No. 30 in the nation and first in the Big Ten in scoring (6.8 runs per game), but no player reached scoring position after the second inning.
"I didn't let playing Illinois faze me," Shaffer, who struck out seven batters and allowed six hits and one walk in seven innings, said in a postgame interview on the Big Ten Network. "It was just like any other game plan at home."
Maryland has scored in only three innings this tournament — it drove in a run in the fourth and fifth innings of a 2-1 win over the Spartans — and on late Thursday night, the Terps' decisive surge came in the second.
After Kevin Martir singled to center field, Jose Cuas reached on a throwing error. With Martir at third and Cuas at first, Anthony Papio singled through the left side to tie the game at 1. After a putout at third base, Papio scored from first following another Illinois throwing error. The 2-1 lead held up over the next seven-plus innings.
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