CHAMPAIGN, IL. (WLFI) - Purdue baseball held leads of 2-0 and 4-3, but three-run innings for Illinois early and late in the game were the difference in the Fighting Illini's series-clinching win, 6-4, Saturday afternoon in game two of the weekend set.
The Boilermakers (11-21, 4-7 Big Ten) have suffered their first series loss in Champaign since 1999. Illinois (21-10, 4-4 Big Ten) posted its first Big Ten series victory of the season after dropping two-of-three to Nebraska and Indiana in its first two conference weekends.
The Fighting Illini scored three times with two outs in the eighth inning to overcome a one-run deficit. After David Kerian delivered a game-tying single, Reid Roper hit a two-run homer to right field to break a 4-4 tie. Roper has hit a pair of two-run homers in the series, the first long balls of the sophomore's college career.
Purdue went up 3-2 in the top of the sixth on a two-out double off the wall in left field from Stephen Talbott, plating Cody Strong from first base. Talbott and Strong each reached base safely four times Saturday. Talbott walked twice and was hit by a pitch to go along with his go-ahead double. Strong singled, walked twice and was hit by a pitch to push his on-base percentage for the season to .509. The freshman has reached base safely in 10 consecutive games.
Kyle Wood returned to the mound for the first time since suffering a forearm strain in the second inning of his Feb. 24 start against Samford in Starkville, Miss. The lefty worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning, striking out Kerian for the first out of the frame. The Illini first baseman is now 6-for-8 in the series with two walks and seven RBI.
Mike Lutz took over for Wood on the mound to begin the seventh inning. The Purdue coaching staff was easing Wood back into the mix in a relief role after he had served strictly as the team's designated hitter over the last six weeks. Lutz (1-4) worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning but gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth, and that led to the game-tying run. Tim McElroy surrendered the go-ahead homer to Roper in a lefty-lefty matchup after Kerian's single.
After recording five hits against Illinois starter John Kravetz in the first two innings, Purdue had only two hits the rest of the game. Already leading 2-0 with two outs in the top of the second, Kravetz made a big pitch to induce an inning-ending 6-3 double play off the bat of Jack Picchiotti. The Boilermakers also left runners on the corners in the first and fourth innings.
A two-out RBI double from Wood in the top of the first and a run-scoring single from Conner Hudnall the following frame scored Purdue's first two runs.
Sean McHugh made a number of strong plays at third base to back up Purdue starter Robert Ramer and the relief pitchers. McHugh also singled and scored in the top of the second. Ramer worked five innings of three-run ball (two earned). He tweaked his left ankle in the fifth inning but was able to finish off the frame.
The series finale is slated for 3 p.m. ET Sunday. The game will be televised live by the Big Ten Network.
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