Thomas Shelton tied the game with a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth inning and scored the winning run to lift the Illini to a 4-3 win over Iowa.
April 8, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Pinch hitter Thomas Shelton tied the game with a base hit to left in the bottom of the eighth and right fielder Davis Hendrickson drove him in with a single up the middle as Illinois scored three runs in its final two at bats to beat Iowa 4-3 at Illinois Field on Friday. It is the Illini's fifth win in their last at bat, the seventh comeback win this year and snaps a four-game losing streak.
"I thought it would be a good situation to get a left-handed hitter up there and take the breaking ball away from their closer," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said of his decision to insert Shelton into the game. "Thomas is a guy who has had success in the past and is very calm when he goes up in pinch-hit situations, so I felt comfortable putting him in and getting a left-handed bat in there.
"We had a couple different situations where we had a chance to score and didn't get the bat on the ball, then we came up late and our guys just stayed composed and continued to fight, so it was really good to see a win after we had been through some adversity this week."
Iowa (11-16 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten) got on the board in the second after a leadoff double by catcher Tyson Blaser, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI single through the right side against a drawn-in infield by right fielder Chett Zeise for a 1-0 lead.
The Illini (10-14, 2-2) got back-to-back singles by left fielder Casey McMurray and first baseman Matt Dittman to start the bottom of the second, but a pair of unassisted putouts on grounders to the third baseman and a sharp liner to right field kept the Orange and Blue off the scoreboard.
McMurray led off the fifth with a base hit to right-center and moved to second on a groundout by catcher Adam Davis. Dittman grounded out to third base, moving McMurray up another station, but third baseman Brandon Hohl popped out to the second baseman to end the threat.
The Hawkeyes put two more on the board in the fifth after a leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt and a two-run homer on a 3-2 pitch by center fielder Trevor Willis to go up 3-0.
Illinois responded with a run in the bottom of the fifth when Hendrickson beat out a nubber to the second baseman with two outs and moved to third on center fielder Willie Argo's base hit to right. Second baseman Justin Parr singled through the right side, driving home Hendrickson, and moving Argo to third. Parr moved up on a wild pitch but McMurray struck out swinging to end the inning with the Illini trailing 3-1.
Illinois starter Kevin Johnson, who didn't have his best stuff but battled throughout the game, got a double play to erase a leadoff single in the sixth and induced a groundout to shortstop Thomas Lindauer to end the inning on only eight pitches. Johnson then had another eight-pitch inning in the seventh, getting three groundouts while hitting a batter.
In the bottom of the seventh, DH Pat Sheehan reached when the second baseman made a bad throw to first on his ground ball and stole second. Hendrickson legged out another infield hit, pushing Sheehan to third. Argo then ripped a single over the shortstop's head to drive in Sheehan. Parr grounded out to the first baseman, moving both runners up a station, and McMurray was hit by a pitch to load the bases. But catcher Adam Davis struck out to end the inning with the Illini trailing 3-2.
Johnson walked the first hitter he faced in the eighth and the next hitter laid down a sacrifice bunt. Will Strack relieved Johnson and induced a liner to Lindauer before fanning Blaser on three pitches to end the threat.
Dittman led off the bottom of the eighth with a ringing single to center and Iowa brought in Patrick Lala in relief of starter Jarred Hippen. Hohl laid down a sacrifice bunt, advancing Dittman to second, and Lindauer struck out for the second out. Shelton pinch hit for Sheehan and smacked the 2-2 pitch into left field. Dittman rounded third and slid in just ahead of the throw, which was left of the plate, tying the game at 3, while Shelton advanced to second on the throw. Hendrickson then knocked the first pitch he saw back through the box and Shelton came around to score for a 4-3 lead.
Closer Wes Braun came on to pitch the ninth and got a pair of quick outs on a groundout to Parr and a strikeout. But he walked the next hitter and gave up a slow-rolling base hit through the right side against an infield at double-play depth to put runners on first and second. After a visit from Hartleb, Braun went to a 1-1 count against Willis before inducing a sharp one-hopper back to the mound, which he knocked down, grabbed and tossed to first for the final out and his fourth save of the year.
Hendrickson led the Illini, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run, while Argo was 3-for-5 with an RBI. Dittman also went 2-for-4 with a run scored, while Shelton was 1-for-1 with an RBI and a run in a pinch-hit role.
Johnson was once again solid in the starting role, giving up three runs on four hits and four walks over 7 1/3 innings, striking out four. Strack pitched a perfect 2/3 of an inning with a strikeout, and Braun pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out one, walking one and giving up a hit.
The Illini and Hawkeyes return to Illinois Field on Saturday for game two of the series at 6 p.m. Illinois will send right-hander John Anderson to the mound, while Iowa will give the ball to lefty Matt Dermody because planned starter Nick Brown has been scratched for the weekend with an injury. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network with Brian Barnhart and Gerry Kindall on the call.