Illini Lose Late Lead, Fall to #19 Pirates 7-5
March 5, 2010
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Illinois took a one-run lead in the top of the seventh but No. 19 East Carolina used a four-run bottom half of the inning to grab the lead for good as the Pirates took a 7-5 win at the seventh-annual Keith LeClair Classic. Center fielder Willie Argo and catcher Aaron Johnson each notched two hits and two RBIs, and right fielder Craig Lutes was 2-for-3 with two runs.
"We played hard," Ilinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "We struck out too much and when we have scoring innings, we need to turn around and put zeroes on the board in the next inning. But we continued to play hard when things didn't go well and we saw some good things from our guys."
The Pirates touched the scoreboard first in the bottom of the third after a leadoff single, a steal of second and a throw into center field put a runner on third with no outs. A grounder back to the mound kept ECU at bay initially, but the next grounder went to shortstop Josh Parr, who threw home. But catcher Aaron Johnson couldn't handle the throw and the run scored.
ECU added a run in the fourth on a solo homer and made its lead 3-0 in the fifth. A one-out single and a steal of second started the inning. After a hit batter, Pirate first baseman John Wooten drove in the runner with a base hit to left-center.
Illinois started its comeback in the sixth when Johnson knocked a one-out single and moved to third on first baseman Matt Dittman's double down the right-field line. Left fielder Casey McMurray drove in Johnson with an RBI groundout to cut ECU's lead to 3-1.
The Illini pulled ahead with a three-run seventh inning when right fielder Craig Lutes doubled to the opposite field with one out and Parr singled to right. Center fielder Willie Argo singled to right to bring home Lutes and the runners moved up to second and third on a wild pitch. One out later, Johnson smashed a double to left-center, bringing in both Parr and Argo for a 4-3 Illinois lead.
But ECU exploded for four runs off Illini relievers Bryan Roberts and Mike Sterk to pull into a 7-4 lead. Illinois looked to rally in the ninth when Lutes started with a leadoff single and, one out later, Argo doubled him home. But the next two Illini hitters struck out to make the final score 7-5 in favor of the Pirates.
Argo was 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run in his first game in the top spot in the batting order. Johnson went 2-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and a run, and McMurray went 2-for-5 with an RBI.
The Illini return to action Saturday when they take on Western Carolina at 10 a.m. CT.