Johnson Tosses Gem; Illini Blank St. John's, 4-0

Starting pitcher Kevin Johnson tossed seven shutout innings as Illinois beat St. John's, 4-0.
Starting pitcher Kevin Johnson tossed seven shutout innings as Illinois beat St. John's, 4-0.

March 2, 2012

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Johnson Postgame Interview

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Junior starting pitcher Kevin Johnson threw seven shutout innings and sophomore Ronnie Muck pitched a pair of perfect frames to close out Illinois' 4-0 win over St. John's on Friday at BB&T Field in the first game of the Coastal Carolina Invitational. Johnson gave up seven hits and three walks but induced four double plays - three to end innings - to keep the Red Storm off the board and give the Illini their first winning streak of 2012 with their third-straight victory.

The win marks Illinois' first shutout over a Division I opponent since a 7-0 victory over Purdue - also by Johnson - at Illinois Field on May 15, 2010. And it was Johnson's first victory since a complete-game win at Michigan on April 15, 2011.

"I'm really pleased with how we played today," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "We played very, very well in all three phases. There's a long way to go, but I'm pleased with the progress we've made in the last few weeks. Kevin did a very good job on the mound today. He threw good pitches in tight situations and fielded his position well, which produced a few more outs for him. Offensively, we jumped on them early and found a way to push across a few more runs later in the game. I thought we took good swings throughout the game."

Johnson showed his composure early when he worked around a jam in the first that was created by a single and a walk with two outs by coaxing a groundout to shortstop Thomas Lindauer. In the bottom half, Lindauer led off with a single up the middle and, after an out, left fielder Justin Parr pulled a base hit through the right side that moved Lindauer to third. After another out, Parr stole second and second baseman Reid Roper walked. First baseman Jordan Parr ripped a base hit through the left side that plated both runs for a 2-0 lead.

Johnson got two quick outs to start the second before giving up a pair of base hits. The runners moved up to second and third base, but the Illini starter induced a groundout to third baseman Brandon Hohl to end the threat.

In the third, Johnson gave up a leadoff hit but erased it with a 1-6-3 double play. He finished that frame with a fly-out to center fielder Willie Argo and got a fly-out to right to start the fourth. He allowed a walk to St. John's right fielder Kevin Grove but ended the inning by inducing a 4-6-3 double play.

In the bottom of the fourth, right fielder Davis Hendrickson bunted to the left of the mound with one out and the pitcher's throw to first was wild, allowing him to reach second. Catcher Kelly Norris-Jones singled to right-center, pushing Hendrickson to third. Then Red Storm starter Kyle Hansen attempted a pickoff move to first but threw wildly again, allowing Hendrickson to score and push the lead to 3-0.

Johnson worked a quick 1-2-3 fifth inning but the Illini also went down in order in the bottom half. In the sixth, Johnson gave up a one-out single followed by a walk. But he started another 1-6-3 double play to end the inning unscathed.

Hendrickson knocked a two-out single in the bottom of the sixth but was stranded there. In the seventh, Johnson gave up a leadoff single before Jordan Parr made a nice leaping play on the next hitter to retire him. An error allowed the next hitter to reach but Johnson rolled up his fourth double play of the game to keep the Red Storm off the board once again.

In the bottom of the seventh, Lindauer smoked a double down the left-field line and moved to third on Argo's base hit. After a pitching change, reliever Kevin Kilpatrick attempted a pickoff move to first but threw it over the first baseman's head, allowing Lindauer to score and increase Illinois' lead to 4-0.

Ronnie Muck took over for Johnson in the eighth and worked a perfect final two frames, including two strikeouts, to end the game.

Johnson was excellent on the day, tossing seven shutout innings and recording 12 of his 21 outs via ground balls. Muck was just as strong, striking out two in two perfect innings of relief that required only 21 pitches.

Offensively, Lindauer led the way by going 3-for-4 with a double and two runs, his first career three-hit game. Hendrickson was 2-for-4 with a run, while Jordan Parr drove in two with a 1-for-4 effort.

The Illini return to action on Saturday with a doubleheader against Pittsburgh and Coastal Carolina. Illinois will take on the Panthers at BB&T Coastal Field at noon CT before squaring off with the host Chanticleers at their on-campus ballpark, Watson Stadium, at 5 p.m. CT. Senior Nick Chmielewski will take the ball against Pittsburgh, while freshman John Kravetz will get the start against CCU.