Illini Battle Back to Win Opener, 6-4

Sophomore Kevin Manson tossed 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief to lift Illinois to a 6-4 win over Sam Houston State.
Sophomore Kevin Manson tossed 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief to lift Illinois to a 6-4 win over Sam Houston State.

Feb. 22, 2008

Box Score

EDINBURG, Texas - Illinois (1-0) led early and came back late to win its season opener at the Al Ogletree Classic against Sam Houston State, 6-4. The Illini pulled into the lead with two runs in the seventh, then added an insurance run in the ninth as sophomore Kevin Manson (1-0) picked up his first win of the season with 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief. The Illini won their first season opener since 2004 and are now 94-34-1 all-time to start a season.

"It's nice to start off the season with a win," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I thought we competed very well today, but we have a lot of things to do to become a sharp and consistent ball club.

"We didn't have a lot of hits, but we found a way to score runs. It's important to learn to win games regardless of the type of hitting, defensive, or pitching output that you have that day. Our pitchers did a nice job of battling and getting out of tough situations."

Junior starting pitcher Scott Shaw worked out of an early jam in the bottom of the first inning. A double and stolen base was followed by a walk, putting runners at the corners with one out. Shaw then struck out the next hitter and threw out Ryan Weber at first on a dribbler back to the mound to escape the inning unscathed.

The Illini exhibited patience at the plate in the top of the second as they jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Third baseman John Schlichter started off the inning with a walk followed by a single by right fielder Daniel Webb. One out later, designated hitter Mike Giller was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Bearkats' pitcher Jacob Howard then walked the next two batters, Joe Bonadonna and Kyle Hudson, forcing home Schlichter and Webb for the 2-0 advantage.

Illinois added another run in the third when shortstop Brandon Wikoff led off the inning with a single and then stole second. Wikoff scored on a throwing error by Bearkat shortstop Ryan Weber on a grounder from Schlichter.

After four smooth innings, Shaw ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth. Three consecutive singles began the rally for SHSU and a two-run double tied the score, 3-3. Manson then relieved Shaw and struck out the next Bearkat batter for the second out of the inning. A walk and a base hit gave the Bearkats a 4-3 lead, but on the base hit, Hudson gunned down the runner at third to end the inning.

The resilient Illini weren't down for long as they battled back against new Bearkat pitcher Ryan Tepera in the top of the seventh. With two outs, Hudson walked, stole second and scored on McMurray's single to right field, tying the game at 4. A bunt single by Wikoff advanced McMurray to second, where he was knocked in by first baseman Ryan Hastings' single up the middle, giving the Illini a 5-4 lead.

The Orange and Blue never looked back after regaining the lead, tacking on an insurance run in the top of the ninth when Bonadonna scored on Wikoff's sacrifice fly. Manson pitched a perfect bottom half, notching his third career victory.

Manson had one of the best outings of his young career, giving up just three hits and two walks while striking out three.

The Illini had six hits on the day but created scoring opportunities with their speed on the base paths, finishing the day with five stolen bases without being caught stealing. Illinois also showed patience at the plate, drawing six walks.

Up Next: Illinois will return to Edinburg Stadium to play the Texas State Bobcats at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Right-hander Mike Stankiewicz will take the hill for the Illini.