Rally Falls Short as Illini Drop 4-3 Game to #25 Louisville
Feb. 18, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Illinois scored three in the bottom of the seventh after falling behind 4-0 against No. 25 Louisville at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, but the Illini were never able to get the tying run across as the Cardinals took a 4-3 victory in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The Illini fall to 0-2 on the young season and the Big East holds an 11-9 advantage in the challenge after two days.
"I thought we battled hard again tonight and showed improvement from yesterday," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I was pleased that we had two freshmen on the mound who really competed and we were good defensively. Offensively, I thought we battled well after Thompson shut us down early. We continued to fight and took some good swings late in the game. And I was really pleased with Rob McDonnell. For his first time out on the mound, he competed well. He has a chance to win a lot of games in his career if he continues to progress."
McDonnell's toughness was tested early when Louisville put two men on base with one out in the first inning after a base hit and a hit batter. But McDonnell induced a grounder to third baseman Brandon Hohl near the base, which he stepped on and threw to first for the inning-ending double play.
The redshirt-freshman from Barrington, Ill., struck out two in a perfect second inning but gave up a leadoff double in the third. He fielded a sacrifice bunt well and struck out the next hitter for the second out. After a walk, McDonnell induced a fly-out to left field to end the frame and keep the Cardinals off the board.
McDonnell gave up a pair of singles in the third but got out of the inning unscathed when right fielder Davis Hendrickson gunned down a runner trying to move from first to third on the second base hit. But Louisville finally got to him in the fifth after a leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI single to center gave the Cards a 1-0 lead.
UL added another in the sixth when McDonnell started the inning well, striking out first baseman Stewart Ijames and coaxing a fly-out to left for two quick outs. But he gave up a base hit and a double that landed just inside the third-base bag, driving in a run to put the Cardinals up 2-0 and ending McDonnell's outing. Ronnie Muck came on in relief and coaxed a fly-out to center to end the inning.
After the Illini continued to struggle at the plate against Louisville starter Jeff Thompson in the bottom of the sixth, UL got to Muck quickly in the seventh. Center fielder Adam Engel singled to center and Illini center fielder Willie Argo mishandled it, allowing Engel to reach second. Muck hit the next batter and Engel stole third. An RBI single brought him home and moved the runner to third before Muck struck out cleanup hitter Alex Chittenden for the first out of the frame. After another hit batter loaded the bases, Draasen Johnson took over for Muck and walked in a run to push the Louisville lead to 4-0. But he regained his composure and coaxed a fly-out and got a strikeout to end the inning.
The Illini rattled the bats in the seventh, though, when left fielder Justin Parr started the rally with a single through the right side. Third baseman Brandon Hohl walked and second baseman Reid Roper walked to load the bases. After Derek Self came on in relief of Thompson, Argo pulled a single through the left side to drive home Parr. A double play ball off the bat of first baseman Jordan Parr plated another run and right fielder Davis Hendrickson laced a base hit down the left-field line, driving home Roper to bring the Illini within 4-3. Catcher Kelly Norris-Jones notched his first hit as an Illini, moving Hendrickson to third, and stole second. But shortstop Thomas Lindauer grounded out to third to end the inning.
In the eighth, Louisville started the frame with back-to-back base hits, but Johnson fielded a bunt by second baseman Nick Ratajczak and cut down the lead runner at third for the first out. The next batter hit a liner to Hohl that he wasn't able to corral but stayed with the play, throwing to second for an out. The runner from second thought Hohl caught the ball and retreated to the bag, where Roper unsuccessfully attempted to tag him. But Roper was able to throw to Hohl in a rundown and tag the runner for the inning's third out, keeping the Cards off the board.
But the Illini couldn't muster any more offense in the eighth or ninth as Louisville brought in hard-throwing right-hander Matt Koch for the save in the final frame and the Cardinals took the 4-3 win.
McDonnell posted a solid first outing, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings, striking out four. Johnson was spectacular in relief, tossing 2 2/3 scoreless frames while allowing two hits and a walk, and striking out one.
Offensively, Hendrickson was 1-for-3 with an RBI and Norris-Jones was 1-for-3 with a steal. Hohl and Roper each walked and scored, and Justin Parr was 1-for-4 with a run. Argo also was 1-for-4 with an RBI.
The Illini wrap up the Big Ten/Big East Challenge against No. 27 St. John's on Sunday at 9 a.m. CT. Illinois will send fifth-year senior right-hander Nick Chmielewski, who is healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010 and missing all of 2011, to the hill. The Red Storm will counter with sophomore right-hander James Lomangino. Gametracker and a live blog will once again be available at FightingIllini.com.