Illini Notch 6-3 Win Over Florida Gulf Coast
Feb. 25, 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The top three hitters in the Illinois batting order combined to hit 8-for-13 and score five runs to lift the Illini to a 6-3 win over Florida Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Sun Conference preseason favorite, at Swanson Stadium on Friday. Kevin Johnson posted five strong innings to earn his first win of the season, Will Strack held the Eagles to one run in 3 2/3 innings of relief and Wes Braun recorded the final out for his first save of 2011.
"I'm really pleased with the way we approached the game," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "We did some things well. We still have a lot of things to improve upon, but we found a way to shut down their offense in key situation.
"Parr, McMurray and Argo really set the table and we were able to drive some runs in. On the mound, we weren't that sharp overall, but we worked out of some jams and competed well with runners in scoring position."
The Illini struck first with three runs in the top of the first inning. Shortstop Josh Parr started the game by singling, stealing second and scoring on left fielder Casey McMurray's double to center field. Center fielder Willie Argo singled up the middle, plating McMurray, and, one out later, catcher Adam Davis punched a single through the left side to move Argo to second. A groundout moved the runners to second and third, and Argo scored on third baseman Brandon Hohl's base hit for a 3-0 lead.
The Eagles got a run back in the bottom of the first when Johnson hit the first batter he faced and gave up a run-scoring double to the next hitter. But Johnson settled down, striking out the next hitter, coaxing a fly-out and inducing a groundout to end the inning with the Illini leading 3-1.
Johnson mowed down the Eagles in order in the second, leading to a two-run frame for the Illinois offense in the third. McMurray singled up the middle to lead off the inning and Argo doubled to left, moving McMurray to third. First baseman Matt Dittman's sacrifice fly drove home McMurray, Argo moved up on a groundout by Davis and scored on a wild pitch, pushing the Illini lead to 5-1.
FGCU scored once in the bottom of the third after a one-out walk and consecutive base hits. Johnson issued another free pass to load the bases, but the next hitter flew out and right fielder Davis Hendrickson threw out the runner at the plate to end the frame with Illinois holding a 5-2 margin.
Johnson issued another free pass to start the fourth, but he induced a 6-4-3 double play and struck out the next hitter to retire the side. He allowed a one-out walk in the fifth but coaxed a pair of fly-outs to McMurray to end the inning.
Strack relieved Johnson in the sixth and gave up a leadoff hit before forcing a 6-4-3 double play. After a walk, Strack induced a groundout to end the frame with the Illini holding onto the 5-2 lead.
After a pitching change by FGCU, Hendrickson led off the seventh with a double and Parr singled to center. A bad pickoff attempt allowed the runners to move up a station and McMurray drove in Hendrickson with a groundout to make the score 6-2.
Strack got in a jam in the bottom of the seventh after a one-out error and a balk put a runner on third base. He walked the next hitter, who was promptly caught stealing by Davis, and Strack coaxed a fly-out to McMurray to end the frame without surrendering a run.
Strack scattered a hit and a walk in the eighth, striking out a pair and inducing a groundout, to keep the Illini ahead, 6-2.
But he ran out of gas in the ninth, giving up a leadoff double and a fly-out that moved the runner to third. Strack coaxed another fly-out but gave up an RBI single and a double that put runners on second and third with two outs. Braun relieved Strack and issued a walk to load the bases before inducing a game-ending fly-out to seal the 6-3 victory.
Parr was 3-for-4 with a double, a steal and a run, and Argo went 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI, two runs and a steal. McMurray went 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and two runs.
Johnson allowed two runs on three hits and four walks in five innings of work, striking out three. Strack only gave up one run on five hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. Braun walked one in his 1/3 inning of work.
The Illini and Eagles return to Swanson Stadium for game two of the series Saturday at 1 p.m. CT. Senior John Anderson will toe the rubber for the Orange and Blue.