Catcher Adam Davis ignited the Illini offense with a bunt single in the sixth, starting a six-run frame that gave Illinois a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
April 24, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Catcher Adam Davis beat out a bunt single with one out in the sixth inning, breaking a string of 11 consecutive retired Illinois hitters and igniting a six-run outburst that gave the Illini the lead for good as they beat Michigan State 11-8 on Sunday to clinch a series win. The Spartans entered the series tied atop the Big Ten standings with Indiana, but the weekend finished with five teams within a game of co-leaders Michigan State, Purdue and Penn State.
Every Illini starter had at least one hit and first baseman Matt Dittman led the charge, going 3-for-5. Davis, second baseman Pete Cappetta and DH Justin Parr each collected two hits as Illinois scored its most runs since April 10 and notched its most hits since April 6. Freshman pitcher Luke Joyce posted 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in his second extended outing of the series and Wes Braun posted his fifth save by recording the final two outs of the game, as the Orange and Blue improve to 14-21 overall, 6-6 in the Big Ten.
"We have scuffled throughout the year and these guys have never gotten down," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "They went out against a very, very good Michigan State team and, after losing the first game this weekend, were able to do a good job offensively today and win a series. We had a great pitching performance last night and got what we needed on the mound today to come away with two wins in the series."
A major difference in Sunday's Illini victory was two-out hitting as Illinois went 7-for-14 (.500) and scored six runs with two outs, while MSU hit only 2-for-11 (.182) and scored just two runs with two outs. The Illini also went 10-for-17 (.588) with runners on base, compared to 6-for-20 (.300) for the Spartans.
On the weekend, Parr led the offense, hitting .500 (7-for-14) with two doubles, an RBI and two runs. Argo hit .444 (4-for-9) with a double, two home runs, seven RBIs and five runs for a 1.122 slugging percentage. Davis Hendrickson went 4-for-10 with two RBIs and two runs, and Dittman and Cappetta both went 4-for-12 in the series. Joyce tossed 4 2/3 shutout innings of relief over two appearances and Braun pitched a scoreless 2/3 of an inning, notching a save.
Michigan State (24-12, 7-5) got on top in the first inning when leadoff man Brandon Eckerle bunted to the right of the pitcher's mound and advanced to second when no one was covering first base to receive pitcher Corey Kimes' throw on the play. Eckerle moved to third on a groundout to second base and came home on a sacrifice fly, putting the Spartans on top, 1-0.
But the Illini answered with three in the bottom of the first after Cappetta walked, Parr singled to right and third baseman Brandon Hohl ripped a double down the left-field line to drive in both runners. Hohl advanced to third on Davis' bouncer back to the mound and came home on Dittman's base hit through the right side to give Illinois a 3-1 lead.
Kimes found a groove in the second, working around a two-out single to record three groundouts in the frame. In the bottom half, right fielder Davis Hendrickson walked and stole second with one out, and Cappetta drew a two-out walk, but they were stranded.
Kimes gave up a leadoff base hit in the third but induced a 4-6 putout to retire the lead runner before coaxing a grounder to shortstop Josh Parr and a fly-out to center fielder Willie Argo to end the inning. MSU brought in reliever Chase Rihtarchik in the bottom half and retired the first three hitters he faced on 11 pitches.
In the fourth, Kimes allowed another leadoff single but induced a 1-6-3 double play to erase it. He walked the next hitter but coaxed a fly-out to Argo to get out of the inning. Rihtarchik kept cruising in the bottom half, setting down the Illini in order.
MSU finally got to Kimes in the fifth, though, when the Spartans bunched together a double, a single and another double from three straight hitters with one out. After a groundout to Cappetta, MSU got a bunt single from third baseman Torsten Boss that scored another run, and Boss advanced to second when Kimes' throw was wide of first base. Chris Pack relieved Kimes and induced a groundout to Cappetta to retire the side, but not before the Spartans grabbed a 4-3 lead.
Rihtarchik retired the Illini in order in the fifth, running his streak of consecutive hitters retired to nine, and Pack worked a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth.
Rihtarchik coaxed a fly-out to start the bottom of the sixth, but Davis beat out a bunt single down the third-base line, left fielder Casey McMurray singled to left-center and Dittman singled to right to load the bases. Argo walked on four pitches, forcing in a run, and MSU brought in reliever Tim Simpson. Right fielder Davis Hendrickson lashed a first-pitch single to left, plating McMurray, and Dittman scored on a passed ball. One out later, Cappetta smashed a double to deep center, driving in two runs, and, after another pitching change, Justin Parr ripped another double to center, driving home Cappetta for a 9-4 lead.
MSU fought back in the seventh with back-to-back homers by second baseman Ryan Jones, who hit a three-run bomb, and first baseman Jeff Holm, who knocked a solo shot. But freshman left-hander Luke Joyce took over for Pack, hitting the first batter he faced before inducing a 4-6 groundout, striking out DH Jared Hook on a seven-pitch at bat and coaxing a fly-out to Argo to retire the side as the Spartans drew within 9-8.
Illinois kept it rolling, though, as Dittman dropped a two-out single into center field off new pitcher Tony Wieber, and Argo blasted a 2-1 pitch to left field for his second home run of the series, a two-run dinger, to extend the Illini lead to 11-8. Hendrickson reached on an error by the first baseman and Josh Parr singled to center. Cappetta singled up the middle to load the bases but a groundout ended the inning.
Joyce retired the Spartans in order in the eighth and Illinois had men on first and second with one out in the bottom half, but Dittman grounded into a 4-6-3 double play that ended the inning.
Joyce started the ninth inning by inducing a groundout from Jones before walking Holm and giving up a base hit to Boss. Closer Wes Braun took over from there, walking the first batter he faced to load the bases before coaxing a shallow fly ball to left that didn't drive in a run. He then struck out the final hitter to record his fifth save of the season.
On the day, Dittman led the Illini offense, going 3-for-5 with two runs, while Cappetta was 2-for-3 with a double, two walks, two RBIs and two runs. Justin Parr went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run, and Argo was 1-for-3 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk. Davis also had two hits, going 2-for-5 with a double and a run.
Joyce tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and walking one while striking out one. Braun walked one and struck out one in a scoreless 2/3 of an inning.
The Illini continue their longest home-stand of the season when they host Illinois-Springfield on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. and Bradley at 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday.