Illini Wallop Notre Dame on Opening Night, 11-1
Feb. 26, 2010
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Sophomore Will Strack struck out a career-high six and allowed only one run over six strong innings of work and the Illini pounded out 17 hits as Illinois blasted Notre Dame 11-1 in both teams' first game of the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge at Jack Russell Stadium. Junior first baseman Matt Dittman and senior right fielder Craig Lutes each collected three hits and freshman third baseman Brandon Hohl drove in a team-high two runs in his collegiate debut as the Illini improved to 96-34-1 all-time in season-openers and 3-2 in openers under head coach Dan Hartleb.
"Strack was very good," Hartleb said. "He was impressive tonight. If we pitch like that, we'll have a chance to win a lot of games. And I was pleased how we hit up and down the lineup. Our guys got a little bit of nervous energy out in the first few innings then got rolling."
The Irish got on the board first with three singles in the second inning, but the Illini fought back with a run in the fourth. Second baseman Pete Cappetta led off with a double and advanced to third when third baseman Brandon Hohl lined a single into right field. The right fielder got the ball in quickly, but Notre Dame's third baseman - the cut-off man - bobbled the throw and kicked it into foul territory, allowing Cappetta to score and tie the game 1-1. Hohl moved to second on the play and advanced to third on right fielder Craig Lutes' bunt single, but he was stranded there as shortstop Josh Parr struck out and center fielder Willie Argo struck out before Lutes was caught stealing second to end the inning.
"I thought that was one of the big turning points tonight when Strack got in a little bit of trouble in the second but only gave up one run, then we were able to get it back and really start hitting a couple innings later," Hartleb said.
Strack kept it on cruise control for the most part in the fifth, inducing an infield pop-up and a groundout before giving up a single and stolen base. But he struck out Irish left fielder Ryan Connolly to end the inning.
The Illini really got rolling in the bottom of the fifth when catcher Aaron Johnson led off with a single to the hole on the left side of the infield and first baseman Matt Dittman singled to left. Left fielder Casey McMurray singled up the middle to drive home Johnson and chase Notre Dame starter Cole Johnson. DH Mike Giller shot a single up the middle, driving home Dittman. McMurray went first-to-third on the play and Giller advanced to second on the throw to third, which McMurray barely beat. Cappetta reached when the new pitcher air-mailed the first baseman, allowing McMurray to score and putting runners on second and third. Hohl's sacrifice fly brought home Giller and Cappetta scored on a single to center by Lutes. After another pitching change, Parr struck out and Lutes stole second. Argo then laced a double down the right-field line, chasing home Lutes and making the Illini lead 7-1.
Strack finished his outing strong in the sixth, fanning the first batter and inducing a flyout before hitting a batter. But Dittman picked him up when he tipped a line drive and snared it for the inning's final out.
Illinois tacked on two more runs in the sixth when Dittman drew a leadoff walk and, one out later, Giller reached on an error by the shortstop. Cappetta drove in Dittman with a single to right and Giller moved to third on an error by the right fielder. He came in on Hohl's second sacrifice fly of the night, pushing the Illini lead to 9-1.
Mike Sterk came on in relief of Strack in the seventh and gave up a lead-off single where the batter reached second on an errant throw before inducing a pop-up back to the mound. Sterk allowed another base hit but got the following hitter to ground to Hohl, who threw home and got the runner who had left early from third base. Sterk then fanned the final hitter of the inning.
The Illini added another run in the bottom half when Argo drew a one-out walk and stole second. Johnson singled to right, bringing him home for a 10-1 lead.
Sterk worked a clean top of the eighth, coaxing a flyout to center, a liner to Cappetta at second and a grounder to Hohl at third.
Illinois tacked on another run in the eighth when Hohl lined the first pitch he saw to right field for a two-out base hit, then Lutes went to the opposite field for a single and Parr got his first hit of the night with an RBI double to the gap in right-center, making Illinois' lead 11-1.
Sterk coaxed a groundout to first to start the ninth inning before giving up a walk. But he induced a liner to Lutes in right before getting another grounder to first to end the game.
Dittman finished 3-for-4 with two runs, and Lutes was 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run. Hohl drove in two, going 2-for-3 with a run. Cappetta was 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs, and Giller was 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two runs. Johnson also went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run, and Parr, Argo and McMurray each collected one hit as every starter got at least one hit.
Strack pitched six innings, allowing one run on five hits without giving up a walk and striking out a career-high six. Sterk recorded Illinois' first save of 2010 by tossing three shutout innings, walking one and giving up three hits while striking out one.
The Orange and Blue face South Florida, who dropped a 4-2 loss to Ohio State Friday, at 6:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at Bright House Networks Field, the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies.