Illinois Falls Late in Finale at Georgia State, 10-6

Starter Drasen Johnson had a career-high 10 strikeouts in 6.1 innings but received a no decision on Sunday.
Starter Drasen Johnson had a career-high 10 strikeouts in 6.1 innings but received a no decision on Sunday.

Feb. 16, 2014

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ATLANTA, Ga. - Starter Drasen Johnson notched a career-high 10 strikeouts and the Illini retook the lead with a five-run sixth, but the bullpen couldn't hold onto it, as Georgia State (2-1) used its own five-run inning in the eighth to steal the series finale, 10-6. Illinois (1-2) dropped two out of three in the season-opening series at GSU Baseball Complex despite leading after seven innings in all three games.

"We ended up getting down in the game and I was really pleased that we fought back," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "But we were not good on the mound this weekend and I was extremely disappointed by that. It was one of the worst pitching performances that I've been involved with in college baseball in a three-game series. We will work on it in practice and make great progress by next weekend."

The Illini loaded the bases in the first inning, but failed to capitalize, stranding all three runners.

"We had an opportunity to put multiple runs on the board in the first inning with their pitcher on the ropes but didn't do that," Hartleb said.

After two scoreless innings to start the contest, Illinois scored first in the top of the third. Junior David Kerian laced a two-out double off the left-field wall and redshirt-junior Reid Roper knocked him in with a double down the right-field line. In the bottom of the third, GSU pitcher Matt Rose hit a two-out, three-run homer to put the Panthers up 3-1.

GSU added another run with an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth to go up 4-1. Johnson left men on second and third with two strikeouts to limit the damage.

Freshman Pat McInerney crushed his first career home run with a solo shot over the left-field wall to start the five-run sixth inning. After two walks and a sacrifice bunt by freshman Ryne Roper, junior Will Krug knocked in sophomore Ryan Nagle with an RBI single to center. The Illini caught a break when the GSU catcher missed the throw home on a chopper back to the pitcher, allowing freshman Jason Goldstein to score. Junior Michael Hurwitz put the Illini back in front with a sacrifice fly and Kerian made it 6-4 with an RBI single.

"Pat took quality at-bats the entire weekend," Hartleb said. "He stayed on a fastball and hit that ball a very, very long way. I was pleased with his output this weekend and not surprised by it. He has the chance to be a very good college hitter."

Georgia State got within one at 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh, but the UI bullpen got the job done in match-up relief. After a Panther RBI single, Johnson was replaced by sophomore lefty J.D. Nielsen with one out and runners on first and second. Nielsen induced a foul out to third and was relieved by sophomore righty Nick Blackburn. A walk loaded the bases but Blackburn ended the threat with a fly out to center.

The Illini bullpen couldn't hang onto the one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, as GSU scored five runs with two outs to put the game away. The Panthers took a 7-6 lead with a pair of two-out RBI singles followed by a pitching change with redshirt-junior Rob McDonnell replacing Blackburn on the mound. After a walk loaded the bases, GSU cleared them with a three-run double that gave them a 10-6 advantage, which proved to be the final score after the Illini went down in order in the ninth.

Johnson received a no decision after allowing five runs and 13 hits over 6.1 innings. The Chillicothe, Ill., native recorded 10 strikeouts and only one walk, surpassing his previous high of four strikeouts. The last Illini pitcher to record double-digit strikeouts was Kevin Duchene with 11 punch outs against Penn State on May 10, 2013.

Illinois scored 29 runs during the opening weekend, but allowed 28 runs with a 9.11 ERA. Krug hit .438 (7-for-16) and scored five runs, while Nagle recorded a .417 average (5-for-12) with five RBI. Reid Roper homered twice and posted a team-high seven RBI, while McInerney hit .385 with a home run in his collegiate debut weekend.

Up Next: Illinois will head to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the Caravelle Resort's Baseball at the Beach Tournament from Feb. 21-23. The Illini will play George Mason on Friday, host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and Wichita State on Sunday.