Johnson, Clutch Hits Lead Illini Past Ohio State, 9-1

Kevin Johnson held Ohio State to one run and struck out five in 7 2/3 innings to help Illinois to a 9-1 win.
Kevin Johnson held Ohio State to one run and struck out five in 7 2/3 innings to help Illinois to a 9-1 win.

April 20, 2012

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Postgame Interviews: Coach Hartleb | Kevin Johnson

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Junior starting pitcher Kevin Johnson held Ohio State to one run in 7 2/3 innings and junior DH Thomas Shelton blasted a three-run homer in the seventh, his first career round-tripper, to lift Illinois to a 9-1 win over Ohio State. The Illini scored six runs with two outs while holding the Buckeyes hitless in the same situation. It marked the fifth-straight series-opening win over the Buckeyes and gave Johnson his career-best sixth victory.

"I thought we did a good job tonight of moving runners and then coming up with some key hits and those are some things that we've started to do over the past two games," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "Kevin was very, very good. He got in a couple small jams early and didn't let them snowball, he just continued to pound balls down in the zone. He was in command all night, in command of his emotions and of his body. To give us that kind of start on the Friday night, those are things we've come to expect of him, but it's not an easy thing to go out and pitch on Friday night, so it was a great performance."

Johnson needed only eight pitches in the first to retired the Buckeyes in order, but OSU starter Jaron Long returned the favor in the bottom half. In the second, Johnson allowed a leadoff single to Buckeye first baseman Josh Dezse but kept his cool, inducing a tapper back to the mound, a groundout to second base and another groundout to the mound to strand Dezse at third.

First baseman Jordan Parr doubled over the head of the right fielder with one out in the second but was stranded there after a pair of strikeouts. Johnson gave up a one-out infield hit and walked the next hitter, but struck out the next two hitters to leave a pair of Buckeyes on the bases.

With two outs in the third, shortstop Thomas Lindauer walked and the lights went out at Illinois Field. The delay was short-lived, however, as the problem was diagnosed and repaired with an 18-minute delay the only result. When play resumed, Long missed low with a pickoff throw to first, allowing Lindauer to move to second, and center fielder Willie Argo ripped a single through the left side that brought Lindauer home for a 1-0 lead.

Johnson retired the Buckeyes (21-17 overall, 6-7 in the Big Ten) in order in the fourth and third baseman Brandon Hohl laced a single through the right side to start the bottom half. He moved to second on Jordan Parr's groundout but was left there after a strikeout and a groundout.

In the fifth, Johnson gave up a leadoff single and an infield hit. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third and Johnson walked OSU center fielder Tim Wetzel to load the bases. Second baseman Ryan Cypret sent a sinking liner to left field that Justin Parr caught at his shoe tops, but a run came home on the sacrifice fly. Johnson kept his cool, though, inducing a pop-up to Hohl to end the inning with the score tied, 1-1.

The Illini (21-16, 7-6) battled back in the bottom of the fifth, though, as catcher Kelly Norris-Jones knocked a leadoff base hit. Shelton laid down a bunt in front of the plate and the catcher's throw to second was wide right, allowing Norris-Jones to advance to third. Shelton moved to second on Lindauer's groundout and Norris-Jones scored on Argo's groundout. Justin Parr beat out an infield hit, moving Shelton to third, and stole second. Hohl walked but was put out on Jordan Parr's fielder's choice to end the inning as Illinois regained the lead, 2-1.

Johnson walked Dezse to start the sixth but retired the next three hitters to hold the advantage. In the bottom half, second baseman Reid Roper knocked a one-out single up the middle and Norris-Jones dropped down a bunt that died on the third-base line for a base hit. Shelton poked a single through the left side that drove home Roper, who dislodged the ball from the catcher's glove on the play at the plate. Norris-Jones scored on Lindauer's groundout and Argo drove home Shelton with a single to left-center, pushing the Illini ahead 5-1.

Once again after an Illinois rally, Johnson retired the Buckeyes in order in the seventh. The bats kept rolling in the bottom of the seventh as Jordan Parr beat out an infield hit with one out. He was caught stealing at second but Hendrickson walked and stole second, then scooted to third when the catcher's throw skipped away from the shortstop. Roper walked and Norris-Jones knocked his third hit of the night to left, plating Hendrickson. Shelton then crushed a 1-1 offering from Buckeye reliever Trace Dempsey, a three-run bomb that was his first career home run, to extend the lead to 9-1.

In the eighth, Johnson retired the first two hitters he faced before walking Dezse and left fielder Patrick Porter. Hartleb brought in Anthony Milazzo, who struck out right fielder David Corna to strand a pair of runners. After the Illini were held scoreless in the bottom half, Milazzo struck out the first two men he faced in the ninth, but the second hitter reached on a wild pitch on strike three. Milazzo walked the next hitter before striking out the next two batters to record the rare feat of fanning four hitters in the same inning.

Shelton had a career day, going 2-for-4 with a homer, four RBIs and two runs. Argo drove in three and stole two bases on a 2-for-5 effort, and Norris-Jones went 3-for-4 - his first career three-hit game - with an RBI and three runs scored. Hohl went 2-for-4 and Jordan Parr was 2-for-5 with a double.

Johnson struck out five and walked five while holding OSU to only four hits and a run in 7 2/3 innings of work, his seventh start of seven or more innings this season. Milazzo was excellent in relief, striking out a career-high five and walking one in 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

The same two teams battle again at 3:05 p.m. on Saturday, with Illinois giving the ball to freshman right-hander John Kravetz and Ohio State sending junior left-hander Brian King to the hill.