Walk-off homer caps a late-season rally for Illinois.


This hasn't been a smooth regular season for the Illinois baseball team. A 4-8 record against non-conference teams from the state, including a loss to NAIA Benedictine-Springfield, pulled the overall record down.

But the Illini won 11 of their last 14 games in conference play to win a share of the Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the six-team conference tournament. Senior Matt Dittman's two-out two-run walk-off homer handed the Illini the 7-5 victory over Indiana Saturday and the program's Big Ten championship since 2005.

"At the beginning of the year, I said this team could win the Big Ten championship,'' Illini coach Dan Hartleb said. "In the middle of the year, I said I hope we get into the (Big Ten) tournament.

"We've had other teams where we started out hot. At the end, we hadn't played that well. We didn't start out hot with this team.''

The Illini (25-25 overall, 15-9 in the Big Ten) swept the Hoosiers and won the last five three-game series against Big Ten teams. The Illini have won five straight in Big Ten play. Michigan State carried a one-game lead in the Big Ten standings into the final day of the regular sason but lost 6-5 to Northwestern.

Illinois earns a first-round bye and opens play in the double-elimination conference tournament Thursday at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament winner earns the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Catcher Adam Davis and left fielder Casey McMurray each homered to rally the Illini to a 5-5 tie in the seventh.