EAST LANSING, Mich. — The No. 23 Illinois baseball team pounded six extra-base hits Thursday night, including homers from Zac Taylor and Kellen Sarver, to win at Michigan State, 8-4. Illinois took the opener of the three-game series and won for the 13th time in the last 16 games.
Illinois (35-16, 14-8 Big Ten) trailed 2-0 early but scored three in the fourth sparked by Taylor and Sarver’s back-to-back homers to start the inning. Jack Yalowitz tripled off the wall and scored later in the inning, part of a three-hit day to bring his career hit total to 200.
After Comia plated two runs in the ninth to take a 8-3 lead, Michigan State (19-33, 7-14 Big Ten) rallied to load the bases in the ninth inning and bring the potential tying run to the on-deck circle. Illinois went to Garrett Acton, who worked three straight outs to record his national-leading 18th save. Acton tied the Big Ten record for saves held by Ohio State’s Jake Hale in 2009 (18).
Andy Fisher (7-1) started and put together his fourth straight quality start to earn his seventh win. Fisher settled in to throw 6 2/3 innings while allowing three runs on seven hits. Fisher has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 straight starts.
Fisher was followed by a strong effort from Sean Leland out of the bullpen. Leland got four outs, three via strikeout, while allowing just one hit.
Dan Chmielewski and Marty Bechina led Michigan State with three hits apiece. Mason Erla (2-10) took the loss after allowing four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Illinois and Michigan State are back at the ballpark Friday night at 5:35 p.m. CT for Game 2 of the series. The regular season finale is scheduled for Sunday at 12:05 p.m. CT.
• Illinois has won 13 of its last 16 games.
• Illinois is 7-1 in May.
• Illinois is 13-3 in its last 16 Big Ten games. After starting conference play 1-5, Illinois is now 14-8.
• Illinois is No. 21 in the RPI, the best in the Big Ten.
• Illinois is 11-5 against the RPI top 50, ranking No. 6 in the nation in top 50 winning percentage (.688). The Illini are t-16th in the nation in top 50 wins (t-6th outside the SEC).
• Illinois has won five straight Big Ten series (at Minnesota, Penn State, at Nebraska, Indiana, Purdue).
• Illinois has series wins against every top-five Big Ten team played (at Minnesota, at Nebraska, Indiana).
• Illinois is second in the nation in fewest errors per game (0.65)
• Illinois is tied for second in the nation in fielding percentage at .982.
• Illinois has a fielding percentage of .987 in Big Ten games (11 errors in 22 games). Illinois set the Big Ten record of .986 in 1981.
• Illinois is 32-5 when issuing fewer than seven walks. The Illini are 3-11 when walking seven or more (of those 14 games, 11 have been on the road and one has been a neutral site game).
• Andy Fisher finished the conference season 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings.
• Andy Fisher has four straight quality starts.
• Andy Fisher has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 straight starts.
• Andy Fisher allowed a run in the first inning for the first time this season.
• Zac Taylor is one homer away from becoming the first player in Illinois history with back-to-back 10 HR/10 SB seasons.
• Garrett Acton is the national leader in saves (18) and has set the Illinois single-season record. Acton tied the Big Ten record for saves held by Ohio State’s Jake Hale in 2009 (18).
• Jack Yalowitz picked up his 200th career hit, one game after Michael Massey recorded career hit No. 200.
• Branden Comia is hitting .474 (9-19) in the last four games after taking over at shortstop for the injured Ben Troike.
• Hitting streaks: Yalowitz 7, McDonald 6, Comia 4
• Reached base streaks: Massey 19, Yalowitz 7, McDonald 6, Taylor 6, Van Scoy 4
• This is Illinois’ first trip to Michigan State since 2015.
• Illinois is ranked No. 23 by D1Baseball, its highest ranking this season.