Illini Score 7 Unanswered Runs to Beat Redbirds, 7-5

Redshirt-freshman Drasen Johnson threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn his first career win on Tuesday.
Redshirt-freshman Drasen Johnson threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn his first career win on Tuesday.

April 17, 2012

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - After Illinois fell behind 5-0 through 1 ½ innings, Drasen Johnson came on to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief and the Illini used a three-run sixth inning to take a 7-5 comeback win over Illinois State on Tuesday. The victory marked head coach Dan Hartleb's 200th triumph and snapped a four-game skid as the teams split the season series.

Johnson retired 13 consecutive hitters from the second inning to the sixth on the way to earning his first career win, and center fielder Willie Argo was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Luke Joyce tossed 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief and Ronnie Muck pitched a scoreless ninth as the Illinois bullpen posted 7 2/3 shutout innings, striking out six and allowing only five base runners. The victory was the Illini's first this season when trailing after the fourth inning and pushes their record at Illinois Field to 7-2.

"We started out a little rough and got down 5-0, so it was really good to see our players battle back after having a tough weekend," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I'm really, really pleased with our bullpen. Drasen Johnson was outstanding. He really took the game and settled it down from a defensive and pitching standpoint. Then when we got a little bit deeper, Luke Joyce came on and got a big out with a couple runners on, then gave us a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth and Ronnie Muck did a good job in the ninth. So from that standpoint, it was really a good team victory.

"The 200 wins just mean we've had good players and good coaches on the staff. Without them, we wouldn't have those victories. It goes next to my name, but there are a lot of people involved in those victories."

Redshirt-freshman Reid Roper made his first career start on the mound and gave up a two-run homer in the first. After the Illini went down in order in the bottom half, Roper walked a batter, hit a pair and gave up an RBI double before giving way to Johnson. He walked the first hitter he faced, forcing in a run, then allowed a sacrifice fly before inducing a groundout to second baseman Michael Hurwitz to end the inning with the Redbirds staked to a 5-0 lead.

But Illinois (19-16) battled back in the bottom of the second as first baseman Jordan Parr beat out an infield single deep in the hole at shortstop and right fielder Davis Hendrickson was hit by a pitch. Roper ripped a single through the right side, plating Parr and moving Hendrickson to third. Catcher Kelly Norris-Jones drove in Hendrickson with a chopper to short on which Roper was put out at second, bringing the Illini within 5-2.

Johnson rolled through the second inning and Illinois threatened in the bottom half. With two outs, left fielder Justin Parr walked and third baseman Brandon Hohl singled up the middle. But Jordan Parr flew out to left-center to end the inning.

Johnson worked a second-straight 1-2-3 inning in the fourth and the Illini got to ISU reliever Matt Schmitt quickly. With one out, Roper lined a single through the right side and Norris-Jones poked a base hit through the same spot. Hurwitz walked to load the bases and the Redbirds brought in Jeremy Rhoades. After an out, Argo lined a two-run single to right-center that brought Illinois within 5-4.

Johnson retired the Redbirds (20-13) in order again in the fifth but Rhoades struck out the side in the bottom half around a one-out walk to Jordan Parr. In the sixth, Johnson ran his string of consecutive hitters retired to 13 before surrendering a two-out single. But he struck out ISU shortstop Brett Kay to end the inning.

Norris-Jones led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to right but was put out on Hurwitz' grounder to shortstop. Hurwitz was put out on shortstop Thomas Lindauer's grounder to third base, but Lindauer stole second and came home on Argo's single to left. Argo moved to second on the throw home and scored on Justin Parr's base hit to left. Parr advanced to second on the throw to the plate on his single, and scored on Hohl's single to center, pushing the Illini on top, 7-5.

In the seventh, Johnson struck out the first two hitters he faced before allowing consecutive base hits on 0-2 counts. Joyce came on and induced a groundout to Lindauer to retire the side, though, and preserve the lead.

The Illini put a pair of runners on base with two outs in the seventh but couldn't push across another insurance run. It didn't matter in the eighth, as Joyce pounded the strike zone in a 1-2-3 inning. Lindauer and Argo drew consecutive walks to start the bottom of the eighth but ISU brought in closer Kenny Long, who struck out Justin Parr and induced a 5-3 inning-ending double play to keep the Illini off the board.

Muck came on to pitch the ninth and struck out the first hitter he faced, then induced a pair of groundouts to record his second save of the season as Illinois took the 7-5 victory.

The Illini face a quick turnaround as they travel to Mattoon, Ill., on Wednesday to take on Eastern Illinois at 6 p.m. at Grimes Field at Peterson Park. Freshman right-hander Josh Ferry will get the start for the Orange and Blue, while the Panthers will send freshman right-hander Andrew Grahn to the hill. Illinois took the first game of the season series, 10-3, on April 10. The game will be televised live on WEIU.