Illini starter Kevin Johnson pitched well but picked up the loss as Illinois fell to WKU, 3-1.
March 11, 2011
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Illinois pushed a run across in the top of the ninth but couldn't make a complete comeback, falling 3-1 to Western Kentucky at Nick Denes Field on Friday. The Illini scored a run in their final at bat after a pair of singles, a groundout and a sacrifice fly by shortstop Josh Parr, but a pop-up ended the rally and moved Illinois' record to 3-7 on the season.
"Kevin Johnson was very good," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "He was ahead in the count and competed well. He deserved to win. Their pitcher did a good job, but at the same time, we've got to hit. We didn't center balls and just didn't swing the bat well. We have to start taking better swings.
"We have some guys who have gotten off to slow starts, and they're pressing a little. They've practiced extremely hard and had a good attitude about everything, but you have to produce when you step between the lines. Sometimes it just takes one or two guys to get going, and you can get on a roll. We just have to find those guys to get us started."
Johnson worked around a two-out single and a fielder's choice to post a scoreless first inning and catcher Adam Davis led off the second with a double down the right-field line. But that was the only hit Illinois would notch until the ninth as WKU starter Tanner Perkins retired 21 straight batters.
Johnson allowed a two-out walks but fanned the next batter to end the bottom of the second. In the third, he gave up a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second. He advanced to third on a groundout to the right side of the infield and came home on a controversial balk call, giving the Toppers a 1-0 lead.
The Illini right-hander responded by retiring the next seven hitters on only 16 pitchers, cruising into the sixth inning. But that's where Johnson ran into trouble, issuing a leadoff walk on a 3-2 count. A groundout to the right side moved the runner to second and he came home on a double down the left-field line by right-fielder Ryan Hutchison. Shortstop Logan Robbinson drove home Hutchison with a single to post WKU to a 3-0 lead, but Johnson escaped the inning with consecutive strikeouts.
Johnson worked around a one-out infield hit in the seventh to post a clean inning and he gave way to freshman Ronnie Muck in the eighth. Muck retired the side in order on eight pitches with a pair of groundouts and a fly-out.
In the ninth, pinch hitter Pete Cappetta singled through the right side and moved to second when right fielder Davis Hendrickson beat out an infield hit. Hendrickson was put out on a grounder by center fielder Willie Argo and Parr drove in Cappetta with a sacrifice fly for the second out. But left fielder Casey McMurray popped out to second to end the game with the Toppers winning, 3-1.
Davis and Hendrickson both went 1-for-3, while Cappetta was 1-for-1 with a run scored. Johnson pitched better than his final line of seven innings, five hits, three runs, two walks and a career high-tying seven strikeouts showed. But WKU's Perkins faced just three more batters than the minimum, allowing three hits and not issuing a single walk while striking out six.
Game two of the series begins at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday. Senior John Anderson will take the hill for the Illini.