Dominant Illini Pitching Drops #23 Florida, 5-1
March 2, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Illinois (6-4) received its fourth dominant pitching performance of the weekend, as it completed the sweep of the Sunshine State with a 5-1 win over No. 23 Florida (6-6) on Sunday. Redshirt-junior Drasen Johnson tossed 6.1 scoreless innings and became the fourth Illini starter to earn the win at McKethan Stadium. Sophomore Tyler Jay closed out the final 2.2 innings and earned his third save.
"It was an impressive win today," head coach Dan Hartleb. "Drasen was outstanding. He was dominant early and kept his pitch total down. He stayed down in the zone and was impressive."
After blanking the Gators 6-0 on Friday, Illinois' starting pitching continued to shut down the top-25 team. Johnson posted six straight zeroes to start the game followed by the Illini bullpen coming through in a tight spot in the seventh, preserving a 2-0 advantage. A leadoff single, a sac bunt and an infield single put runners on the corners for the Gators. Jay replaced Johnson and got the job done, inducing a shallow fly out to center and a groundout to third to end the threat.
"Tyler did a great job in a pressure situation," Hartleb said. "He took the wind out of their sails when he escaped the first and third, one out with no runs."
In the top of the eighth, UI added three insurance runs to seal the victory. Redshirt-junior Reid Roper started the rally with a leadoff double. After a fly out and pitching change, sophomore Ryan Nagle singled him home. A walk forced another pitching change and freshman Ryne Roper beat out an infield single to load the bases. Redshirt-freshman Zack Kolakowski hit a rocket to third to knock in Nagle followed by junior Will Krug's speed preventing a double play and allowing Fletcher to score.
"Offensively, our guys came up with a bunch of clutch hits," Hartleb said. "Reid and Ryne Roper had great days and Ryan Nagle continued to be on a tear. I was really pleased with the way we performed. The best part about it was their composure. They just went about their business and were very steady."
Nagle finished 3-for-4 with two doubles, a run and an RBI. Reid went 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run, while Ryne was 2-for-3 with a run and a walk.
The Illini took an early 2-0 lead thanks to patience at the plate and clutch two-out hitting. Ryne Roper had a leadoff single and advanced to second on a balk with one out. After a groundout, junior Michael Hurwitz reached on a hit by pitch followed by a walk to junior David Kerian that loaded the bases. Reid Roper singled through the left side to knock in his brother and Hurwitz, giving him 10 RBI on the season.
Illinois knocked out Florida starter A.J. Puk in the fourth after a Nagle double, a wild pitch and a walk to Ryne Roper put runners on the corners with one out. Kolakowski was hit by the pitch after the switch to load the bases, but the top of the order came up empty with a fly out and groundout.
The Illini were unable to capitalize on another Nagle leadoff double in the sixth, while Johnson worked out of trouble for the first time in the bottom half. A leadoff double and groundout put a runner on third for the Gators with one out. On a grounder to third, Ryne Roper fired home and saved a run when sophomore Jason Goldstein applied the tag in time. After a single put runners on the corners, Johnson ended the threat with a chopper to the mound.
Johnson improved to 2-0 after scattering eight hits and allowing no runs or walks. He notched three strikeouts and threw 83 pitches. Jay allowed the only run to Florida all weekend on a sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. He totaled 31 pitches and had two strikeouts in his 2.2 innings.
In the four-game sweep of Florida Gulf Coast and Florida, Illinois' pitching staff posted a 1.00 ERA, giving up only four runs over 36 innings. They held hitters to a .181 average and registered 21 strikeouts with only five walks. All four starters - Ryan Castellanos (7 IP, 2 ER), Kevin Duchene (9 IP, 0 ER), John Kravetz (7 IP, 1 ER) and Johnson (6.1 IP, 0 ER) - came away with a win.
"It was important to get us over .500 and back in a winning pattern," Hartleb said. "Our guys have to continue to stay within themselves and throw quality pitches."
Illinois' offense hit .300 on the weekend, drew 15 walks and outscored its opponents 23-4. Nagle was on fire with 10 hits in 16 at-bats for a .625 average while scoring a team-high four runs. Fletcher hit .364 with three runs and three RBI, while Krug and Goldstein each batted .333. Reid Roper had a .313 average with three runs and three RBI.
Up Next: Illinois will head to Bowling Green, Ky., for a three-game series against Western Kentucky from March 7-9.