Illini pitcher Kevin Johnson tossed a complete-game four-hitter to lift Illinois to a 2-1 win over No. 18 Oregon.
March 9, 2012
EUGENE, Ore. - Junior pitcher Kevin Johnson tossed a complete-game four-hitter to lift Illinois to a 2-1 win over No. 18 Oregon in front of 1,847 fans at the Nike College Showcase at PK Park on Friday. Johnson struck out five and didn't allow a runner past first base after the second inning as the Illini knocked off their second ranked opponent of 2012.
Oregon's four hits are the fewest by an Illini opponent since Illinois limited Cincinnati to four on Feb. 19, 2011, a string of 64 games. Johnson's complete game was the first by an Illini since Corey Kimes went the distance against Michigan State in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament on May 28, 2011.
"We came from behind in a very tough place to play against a very good team, so I was very pleased," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "Kevin Johnson did an outstanding job tonight. He used his fastball well, was in command of the game, was ahead in the count a lot. I thought we did an excellent job on the mound and played very solidly in the field, and when you do that, you have a chance to win every day."
Johnson was marvelous, striking out a season-high five while walking only one and allowing only four hits. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 32 hitters he faced (62.5 percent) and threw 75 strikes out of 109 pitches (68.8 percent). He allowed only one hit after the third inning and only allowed one runner past second base in the entire game, Oregon's lone run of the game.
"I started working the fastball outside a lot and I saw their hitters start to adjust, so that's when I moved it back in to keep them off-balance," Johnson said. "I left my curveball in my back pocket until later in the game, probably the third or fourth inning, so that helped, too. Establishing the fastball is my biggest thing. If I can hit both sides of the plate, it sets up my offspeed pitches really well. It was awesome to throw a complete game. You've always got so much adrenaline going when that last hitter comes up, I really can't even explain it."
Oregon struck first, pushing across a run in the bottom of the second. Ducks first baseman Ryon Healy knocked a leadoff double to left and scored, two batters later, on an RBI double. But Illini starter Kevin Johnson kept his composure, coaxing a pair of line-outs to end the inning with Oregon leading 1-0.
The Illini looked to strike back in the third when catcher Kelly Norris-Jones knocked a leadoff single and, two outs later, center fielder Willie Argo beat out an infield hit. But left fielder Justin Parr struck out looking to end the threat.
Johnson induced a fly-out to Hendrickson to start the bottom of the third before allowing an infield hit. But the runner was caught stealing when the next batter didn't get a bunt down, and Johnson coaxed a pop-up to third baseman Brandon Hohl to end the inning.
Illinois got on the board in the fourth when Hohl drew a leadoff walk but was put out on second baseman Reid Roper's grounder to the shortstop. Roper moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on first baseman Jordan Parr's base hit to right. Hendrickson grounded to the first baseman, who threw to second for an out, but Hendrickson beat the relay throw to allow the run to score as Illinois tied the game, 1-1.
Johnson retired the Ducks in order in the fourth and fifth innings, and the Illini grabbed the lead in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Roper singled to center and Jordan Parr smacked a triple off the wall in left-center, driving him home and giving Illinois a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Oregon got a leadoff infield hit but the next batter wasn't able to lay down a sacrifice bunt, eventually popping out to shortstop Thomas Lindauer. Duck second baseman Aaron Payne dropped down a sacrifice to move the runner to second and Johnson surrendered his only walk of the night to right fielder Aaron Johnes, but he struck out Healy to strand a pair of runners and hold the Illini lead at 2-1.
Illinois went down in order in the seventh then Johnson retired the Duck side in order on three straight groundouts in the bottom half. After the Illini did the same in the eighth, Johnson struck out the first hitter in the bottom half and coaxed a groundout to Roper for the second out. Lindauer made a nice effort on a slow chopper off the bat of shortstop J.J. Altobelli, but his throw to first pulled Parr off the bag and the Duck was safe with two outs. Johnson coaxed a fly-out to Justin Parr to end the inning, sending the game to the ninth.
The Illini got a base runner in the ninth when Hendrickson was hit by a pitch from reliever Tommy Thorpe with two outs, but catcher Kelly Norris-Jones grounded out to first base to end the frame. In the bottom half, Johnson induced a fly-out to Justin Parr for the first out, then got a fly-out to Hendrickson for out number two. The Illini hurler then worked ahead of DH Shaun Chase 1-2 before dropping a curveball on the outside corner to strike him out looking and seal the victory by a 2-1 score.
Jordan Parr and Willie Argo led the Illini at the plate, both going 2-for-4. Parr also drove in a run. Roper went 1-for-4 with two runs and Norris-Jones had Illinois' other hit on the night. Hendrickson also drove in a run.
The Illini return to action on Saturday when they travel to Corvallis, Ore., to face Connecticut - which beat No. 16 Oklahoma, 8-7, on Friday - at 1 p.m. CT and No. 22 Oregon State at 5 p.m. Illinois will send freshman right-hander John Kravetz to the mound against the Huskies and will give the ball to junior right-hander Matt Milroy against the Beavers.