Fletcher Leads Illini to 5-4 Walk-Off Win over MSU
May 3, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It has been a memorable week for junior Casey Fletcher. After hitting three home runs on Wednesday, the Illini right fielder smacked two more homers on Saturday before giving Illinois a 5-4 victory over Michigan State with a bases-loaded, walk-off RBI single in the 10th. Senior Ronnie Muck earned his first win of the year following four scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
"Casey's last hit was so smart," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "He was facing a left hander who was probably going to go away from him and he put a good swing on a ball. We were fortunate it was able to get through for the big game-winning hit. Ronnie gave us a very good outing. He wash't sharp early, but he was very composed and found a way to get out of jams. We got another great game out of our starter and reliever."
Junior Will Krug led off the 10th with a double to the gap in right center. After a strikeout and walk to junior David Kerian, the Spartans made a pitching change but followed with a hit by pitch to redshirt-junior Reid Roper that loaded the bases. Fletcher nailed the first pitch he saw past the MSU third baseman and down the left field line for his first walk-off hit at any level.
"I've never had a walk-off hit like that, so it feels very rewarding," Fletcher said. "It's been a good week. I don't know what else to say. We've got to come out tomorrow and hopefully complete the sweep."
Fletcher, who went 3-for-5 with three RBI, took over as the team leader in home runs at six with a solo blast in the second for the first run of the game and a first-pitch leadoff dinger that tied it at three in the fourth inning. The Oakwood, Ill., native has five home runs in his last three games after becoming the seventh Illini to hit three home runs in a game earlier this week.
"The home runs didn't mean anything if we didn't come out with the win," Fletcher said. "That's why we play the game. Individual accolades are awesome, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't get that win today."
Trailing 4-3 in the sixth inning, sophomore Jason Goldstein tied it up with a leadoff home run. Muck took over in the seventh after starter John Kravetz, who received a no decision with four runs in six stanzas, allowed a leadoff single. He escaped his first jam following an error on a sacrifice bunt thanks to a Goldstein pick off at second, a fly out and strikeout.
A single, hit by pitch and stolen base gave MSU runners on the corners in the eighth, but Muck again escaped unscathed. He left another runner stranded at third base in the ninth and worked a perfect 10th before Fletcher's heroics in the bottom half.
Krug scored the game-winning run as part of a 3-for-5 day with two total runs. He also came home on Kerian's RBI single in the second that put the Illini ahead 2-0 early. The Spartans scored one in the third, two in the fourth and one in the sixth before the Orange and Blue battled back.
Illinois (26-17) won 5-4 in comeback fashion against Michigan State (24-19, 8-9 Big Ten) for the second consecutive day, marking UI's 13 comeback win this season. The Illini remained tied with Nebraska for second place in the Big Ten at 12-5, three games behind first-place Indiana (15-2). Illinois wore special camouflage jerseys that were donated and auctioned off by the Fighting Illini Dugout Club as part of the third annual Honor and Serve Day.
Up Next: Illinois will celebrate Senior Day on Sunday at the final regular season home game as it goes for the sweep of Michigan State at 1 p.m. Seniors Chase Hainline, Luke Joyce and Ronnie Muck will be recognized on the field before the game.