Milroy Strikes Out 11 as Illini Sweep 'Cats with 3-2 Win

Matt Milroy struck out a career-high 11 hitters to help the Illini to a sweep-clinching 3-2 win at Northwestern.
Matt Milroy struck out a career-high 11 hitters to help the Illini to a sweep-clinching 3-2 win at Northwestern.

April 29, 2012

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EVANSTON, Ill. - Junior pitcher Matt Milroy recorded an infield pop-up and a strikeout looking with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to seal a 3-2 victory and finish Illinois' sweep of Northwestern at Rocky Miller Park on Sunday. Milroy fanned a career-high 11 in 6 2/3 scoreless innings of relief and the Illini scored the go-ahead run in the eighth on Brandon Hohl's sacrifice fly.

The sweep was Illinois' second in its last six Big Ten series dating back to 2011 and its first road sweep since breaking out the brooms at Northwestern in 2009. The victory marked the Illini's seventh win in their last nine games and five in their last six Big Ten games to improve to 25-18 overall, 8-7 in the Big Ten and a four-way tie for fourth place in the league standings.

Milroy's 11 strikeouts equaled the most by an Illini pitcher since Drew Dickinson fanned 12 in an 11-inning win over Bucknell on March 15, 2002. Kevin Johnson also struck out 11 against Northern Illinois on March 17, 2011, and Jimmy Conroy fanned 11 against Michigan State on April 11, 2004.

Milroy struck out 11 of the 20 outs he recorded and held Northwestern to an .091 batting average. He didn't allow a hit until the eighth inning - his fifth complete inning of work - and faced only five hitters over the minimum. His 11 strikeouts mark the second time this year that Milroy has struck out 10 or more, as he also fanned 10 against Indiana on April 8. In April, Milroy has 35 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings and has posted a 1.59 ERA in seven appearances.

"Milroy was very, very good," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "He held his composure and that's a big step for him. He's started to do a great job in that area and today he was dominant. Offensively, we probably hit more balls hard today than we have in a game this year and we only scored three runs. But we took good swings and didn't get down on ourselves when we made outs, so that was great to see."

In the first, the Illini looked to mount a two-out rally as left fielder Justin Parr singled to center and third baseman Brandon Hohl walked. But a fly-out by first baseman Jordan Parr ended the inning. Illinois starting pitcher Drasen Johnson made quick work of the Wildcats in the bottom half, retiring them in order to keep the game scoreless after an inning.

After the Illini went down in order in the second, Northwestern pushed a run across on three hits to grab a 1-0 lead. Illinois was retired 1-2-3 in the third and the Wildcats scored again on three hits in the third, chasing Johnson from the game. Milroy came on in relief with two runners on base and retired the first two hitters he faced to strand the runners and keep the Illini within 2-0 after three innings.

But Illinois responded with a run in the top of the fourth after Hohl singled through the left side and Jordan Parr drove him in with a double to the wall in left-center, cutting the Northwestern lead to 2-1. In the bottom half, Milroy found a groove and struck out the side.

The Illini went down in order in the fifth but Milroy remained in command against the Wildcats, issuing a two-out walk in the bottom half but keeping Northwestern scoreless in the inning.

In the sixth, center fielder Willie Argo drove a leadoff single through the right side and Justin Parr bounced a single through the right side that moved Argo to third. Hohl then singled through the right side, driving in Argo to tie the game 2-2. Jordan Parr moved the runners up a base with a groundout to the right side and DH Thomas Shelton was walked intentionally. But right fielder Davis Hendrickson grounded into a double play to end the inning as Illinois was unable to capitalize.

Milroy kept rolling in the sixth, fanning two more Wildcats, but the Illini were retired in order in the seventh. Milroy returned the favor in the bottom half, though, setting down Northwestern in order while notching his ninth strikeout of the afternoon.

In the eighth, Argo led off with a base hit to right-center and Justin Parr pulled a base hit through the right side, moving Argo to third once again. Hohl then crushed an offering from Wildcat starter Zach Morton but the wind knocked it down, keeping it in the park for a deep sacrifice fly that gave the Illini their first lead of the day, 3-2.

Milroy gave up his first hit in the eighth but struck out Northwestern shortstop Kyle Ruchim and coaxed an inning-ending liner to Justin Parr to keep the Illini staked to a 3-2 lead. Illinois went down in order in the ninth, setting up the dramatic finish.

In the bottom of the ninth, Milroy hit Northwestern catcher Geoff Rowan then walked pinch hitter Patrick Miller. Right fielder Walker Moses popped up a bunt that Jordan Parr snared to the right of the pitcher's mound with a diving attempt for the first out. Left fielder Hamilton Wise knocked a single up the middle but the runner on second froze on the line drive and had to hold at third. That gave Milroy the opening he needed, coaxing a pop-up to second baseman Reid Roper who was two steps onto the outfield grass and striking out Northwestern slugger Paul Snieder looking to end the game with the bases loaded.

Hohl keyed the offense on the day, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run, and Jordan Parr drove in the Illini's third run with a fourth-inning double. Justin Parr was 3-for-4 and Argo went 2-for-4 with two runs as Illinois' Nos. 2-4 hitters combined to hit 7-for-11 with three runs and two RBIs.

On the weekend, Jordan Parr had a team-high .455 average, going 5-for-11 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs. Justin Parr went 3-for-8 (.375) with a steal and catcher Kelly Norris-Jones hit .300 (3-for-10) with a double, two RBIs and a run.

The Illini posted a 2.00 team ERA in the series as Kevin Johnson, Ronnie Muck and Milroy combined to throw 18 2/3 scoreless innings with 22 strikeouts and four walks, allowing only 10 hits.

Illinois returns to action on Tuesday when it hosts Southern Illinois in the final non-conference game of the regular season at 6 p.m. The Illini then welcome Michigan State to Illinois Field next weekend, with the fourth-annual Bleacher Bum Barbecue on Friday, May 4, and Honor and Serve Day featuring orange and blue camouflage jerseys on Sunday, May 6.