Walk-Off Squeeze Bunt Tops Xavier in 13th, 3-2
March 23, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Minutes after the series finale eclipsed the four-hour mark in the 13th inning, redshirt-freshman Zack Kolakowski laid down a suicide squeeze bunt with the bases loaded that scored junior Casey Fletcher as the winning run in Illinois' 3-2 victory over Xavier on Sunday. After allowing two runs in the first, Illinois' five pitchers combined for a season-high 18 strikeouts while holding the Musketeers scoreless over the final 12 innings on a 30-degree day at Illinois Field.
"It was an interesting game to say the least," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "Anytime you play in the cold, you want quick games, but it ended up being over four hours. We found a way to tie it up and send it to extras. Having it end on a suicide squeeze was fitting for how the whole day went."
The Illini, who left a season-high 16 men on base, had multiple opportunities but were unable to get a run across in the first six innings. The Orange and Blue mounted their late comeback with a run in the seventh on a bases-loaded fielder's choice by sophomore Ryan Nagle and another in the eighth on an RBI groundout by sophomore Adam Walton.
Following four more scoreless frames by both teams, Fletcher led off the 13th with a single to right field. A sacrifice bunt by freshman Ryne Roper put a runner in scoring position and was followed by a walk to Walton. On the next pitch, Fletcher and Walton executed a double steal, forcing Xavier to intentionally walk junior Will Krug. After taking a pitch, Kolakowski, who entered the game in the top of the 13th, squeezed home Fletcher on a 1-0 count.
Starter Rob McDonnell matched a career-high six strikeouts in just 3.1 innings. With one out in the first, he induced a grounder to short that looked like it would start an inning-ending double play, but it hit the umpire and loaded the bases instead. After a strikeout, Xavier scored its only runs of the day on a single to left on a 1-2 count.
Sophomore Nick Blackburn relieved McDonnell in the fourth following a pair of one-out singles. He recorded the next to outs and followed it with a perfect fifth. Senior Ronnie Muck took over in the sixth and threw two perfect innings while striking out two Musketeers.
Sophomore Tyler Jay pitched the longest of Illinois' five pitchers, tossing a career-high five shutout innings. The Lemont, Ill., native only allowed two hits, walked three and recorded a career-high eight strikeouts. His only trouble faced was in the ninth when a pair of walks and a two-out single loaded the bases. He ended the threat thanks to help from Fletcher, who ran down a liner in right to save the game. Redshirt-junior Reid Roper moved from second base to the mound in the 13th and put up a zero while earning his first win of the season.
"I was really pleased with our pitching overall," Hartleb said. "Tyler Jay really bridged the game for us and we came up with some key strikeouts. Casey Fletcher also had a very good day. He hit the ball really well and made a great play in right field that extended the game for us."
Fletcher finished with a career-high four hits in five at-bats to go along with scoring the winning run. The Oakwood, Ill., native excelled during the series, hitting .500 with three runs, three doubles, a home run and two RBI. Walton also had a run and an RBI in his best weekend as an Illini in which he hit .500 (6-for-12).
Illinois took three out of four from Xavier (12-10) in its first home series of the season and improved to 11-10 overall. The Illini outscored the Musketeers 17-11 and boasted a 2.47 ERA with 29 strikeouts.
Up Next: Illinois is scheduled to play Illinois State on Tuesday night in Normal, Ill., but the game could potentially be moved to Wednesday at Illinois Field due to the forecasted weather early this week and field conditions at ISU.