Illini Take Series with 11-7 White-Knuckle Win Over Hawkeyes
April 10, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning after giving up the lead in the top half and held on for an 11-7 victory and a series win over Iowa in front of 1,221 fans at Illinois Field on Sunday. Catcher Adam Davis knocked in the go-ahead run in the eighth and first baseman Matt Dittman added some breathing room with a three-run home run, one of three Illini homers on the day and the second time this season that Illinois has notched three dingers in a game.
Illinois improves to 11-15 on the season, 3-3 in the Big Ten, and currently sits in a three-way tie for fourth place in the league standings, two games behind Michigan State. Iowa falls to 12-17, 2-4, and is in a four-way tie for seventh. The victory was the Illini's second victory in its last at bat this weekend and sixth this season, and the squad's eighth comeback win in 2011.
"So far it seems like all we do is come back and win, but we are resilient and we find ways to come back," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I'm just hopeful that as we get some leads, that we can start to tack on and widen the gap a little bit. That will help everybody involved - that'll help the hitters, it helps you defensively and it helps the pitcher settle in."
The Illini struck first, scoring five runs in the first inning, their largest first-inning output this season. Center fielder Willie Argo drew a leadoff walk and stole second before second baseman Justin Parr also drew a walk. Left fielder Casey McMurray drove in Argo with a base hit up the middle and Davis crushed the first pitch he saw to left for a three-run home run. After an out, third baseman Brandon Hohl hammered a pitch that just cleared the wall in left for his second home run of the series, giving the Illini a 5-0 lead.
Illini starter Corey Kimes allowed a leadoff single in the second but got out of it unscathed after a strikeout, a fly-out to Pete Cappetta in right field and a grounder to Hohl. In the bottom half, Parr knocked a one-out single to center and McMurray walked, but Davis hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to keep the Illini off the board.
Kimes worked a quick third inning, allowing only one base-runner after hitting a batter with two outs. After the Illini went down scoreless in the bottom half, Iowa started chipping away in the fourth after a leadoff walk and consecutive base hits scored a run.
Illinois looked to have something going in the bottom of the fourth when Cappetta singled to left and stole second, then moved to third when Argo reached on an error by the third baseman. Argo stole second but Parr grounded out to the first baseman and McMurray grounded to the third baseman, who threw out Cappetta at the plate after he had started a run-down. Argo and McMurray also got into bad situations on the bases, with McMurray getting caught between first and second and being tagged out by the third baseman, who took the return throw from the catcher trying to get Argo in the run-down.
Kimes gave up a two-out single in the fifth but coaxed a pop-up to Parr to end the inning. The Orange and Blue seemed to have had the air let out of their sails after the double play in the fourth, going down in order in the fifth.
Iowa cut the margin again in the sixth when first baseman Dittman fielded a ball behind the bag and started to run to touch the base, but as he did, the ball squirted out of his glove and DH Andrew Ewing was safe with one out. A single moved him to second and Ewing scored on a base hit up the middle. Kimes fanned the next hitter but gave up an infield hit that loaded the bases. He then surrendered a base hit to left that drove in two and Will Strack relieved the Illini starter. Strack coaxed a grounder to shortstop Thomas Lindauer's right, which he gloved and threw to third to retire the lead runner by a step for the inning's third out, but Iowa drew within 5-4.
The Illini went down in order again in the sixth and Iowa tied the game on the first swing of the seventh inning as second baseman Mike McQuillan blasted a 1-0 pitch to right-center for a solo homer. Strack gave up a double and a base hit that put men on the corners, and Hartleb went to Wes Braun out of the bullpen. Right fielder Chett Zeise laid down a safety squeeze, but he bunted it back to Braun, who held the runner at third and threw to first for the first out of the inning. Braun hit the next batter to load the bases and he induced a comebacker to the mound off the bat of pinch hitter Phil Keppler, starting an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play to keep the game tied, 5-5.
Illinois got the run back in the seventh when Parr ripped a one-out triple into the right-field corner. Iowa brought in reliever Patrick Lala, who worked a 1-1 count on McMurray before the Illini senior lifted a foul fly ball behind first base. McQuillan gloved it but ran into Keppler, the first baseman, in foul territory and fell to the ground, allowing Parr to scamper home and put the Illini ahead 6-5. Davis restarted the rally with a base hit through the right side and Dittman doubled down the right-field line to put runners at second and third with two outs. Hohl was intentionally walked and Lindauer struck out to end the inning.
Iowa took the lead in the eighth, though, when Parr made a poor throw to first on a grounder and Hohl bobbled a sacrifice bunt attempt, putting men on first and second. The next batter sacrificed the runners over and McQuillan knocked in a run with a base hit to right. A wild pitch brought in another unearned run and the Hawkeyes led 7-6.
The Orange and Blue looked to be in trouble in the bottom of the eighth as DH Thomas Shelton struck out and Cappetta grounded out to second. But Argo was hit by a pitch and Parr singled to deep left, where Zeise - who moved to left to start the inning - mishandled the ball, allowing Argo to score the tying run all the way from first and Parr to advance to second. McMurray was hit by a pitch and Iowa head coach Jack Dahm moved Keppler from first to the pitching mound to try to get out of the inning. But Davis knocked a 2-2 pitch back up the middle, driving in the winning run in Parr. The Illini weren't finished, though, as Dittman blasted the first pitch he saw off the batter's eye in center field for a three-run home run and an 11-7 lead.
Chris Pack came on to pitch the ninth and he fanned the first hitter before coaxing a fly-out to McMurray. He gave up a base hit to right-center and hit the next batter but induced a soft liner to Lindauer for the game's final out.
Davis led the Illini offense, going 3-for-5 with a homer, four RBIs and two runs. Dittman was 2-for-5 with a homer, a double and three RBIs, and Parr went 3-for-4 with a triple and three runs. Hohl was 2-for-3 with two walks, an RBI and a run, and McMurray was 1-for-2 with a walk, two RBIs and two runs. Argo also walked, was hit by a pitch, stole two bases and scored twice.
Kimes posted a solid effort, allowing only one earned run out of the four Iowa scored off him on eight hits and two walks while striking out a career-high six batters over 5 2/3 innings. Braun allowed only two unearned runs in two innings of relief to get the win and Pack tossed a scoreless ninth.
Illinois returns to action Tuesday against Eastern Illinois in what has become the teams' annual game at Peterson Park in Mattoon, Ill. First pitch will be at 6 p.m. The Illini then come back home for a Wednesday game against Southern Illinois - the second of three meetings between the teams this season - at 6:05 p.m. before a weekend road trip to Michigan.