Fletcher's Walk-Off Wraps Up Sweep of Spartans, 10-9
May 4, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Junior Casey Fletcher found the perfect way to cap off the best week of baseball in his life. The Oakwood, Ill., native poked a game-winning two-run single the opposite way with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for his second walk-off hit in as many days. Illinois overcame an 8-3 deficit with four runs in the seventh and three in the ninth to win 10-9, marking the third one-run comeback victory in the weekend sweep of Michigan State.
"I don't know what's going on," Fletcher said. "I just keep getting put into spots to help the team win and I came through again. I'm just ecstatic right now. It's unbelievable. It's a great feeling to get the sweep of Michigan State."
The Orange and Blue clinched a berth into the 2014 Big Ten Tournament and are tied for second in the Big Ten with Nebraska at 13-5 with six games remaining. The Illini and Huskers, who will meet in Lincoln for the final series of the year, are three games back of first-place Indiana (16-2). Illinois (27-17) moved to 10 games over .500 for the first time this season following its third Big Ten sweep.
Illinois last posted three Big Ten sweeps in a season in 2009. The Illini broke out the brooms at home against Michigan State, at Penn State and at Northwestern that year, while they repeated the feat in reverse order this season, winning in Evanston and Happy Valley before closing out against the Spartans at home.
After MSU scored four runs in the seventh, the Illini responded with four runs of their own in the bottom half to get back within one at 8-7. The first three hitters reached to load the bases and force a pitching change. Capping off a nine-pitch at-bat, junior David Kerian drilled with a three-run double that knocked in sophomore Adam Walton, junior Will Krug and freshman Matthew James. After sophomore Jason Goldstein moved Kerian to third on a groundout, redshirt-junior Reid Roper brought him home with an RBI single.
Following a Spartan run in the ninth that made it 9-7, Reid Roper came up huge in the bottom half and scored the game-winning run. With two outs and runners on the corners, the Illini second baseman kept the game alive with an RBI single to center on an 0-2 pitch and moved into scoring position on the throw with heads-up base running. On the very next pitch, Fletcher was looking fastball away again and delivered his second career walk-off hit for the second day in a row.
"I hope it's Casey Fletcher month," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "That means we've got three more good weeks out of him. For him to be in those positions, there are other guys that are involved. He's been the guys who's come up in crucial situations and come up with big hits for us."
Fletcher turned in a phenomenal week, beginning with three home runs against Southern Illinois on Wednesday. He followed it with two homers and a walk-off RBI single on Saturday before being clutch again on Sunday. The Illini right fielder hit .471 (8-for-17) with two walk-off winners, five home runs and 10 RBI to lead Illinois to four wins.
"I've never swung the bat this way in my life," Fletcher said. "It's just clicking for me right now. I'm getting pitches to hit and putting good swings on it. I'm blessed to be here and it's been a blast."
Illinois equaled Michigan State with 14 hits, led by Walton, who went 3-for-4 and scored twice. Kerian finished 2-for-5 with a season-high five RBI and was a key component to keeping the Illini in the game. He blasted a two-run triple in the third and a three-run double in the seventh. Fletcher and Reid Roper each went 2-for-5 with two RBI.
"There were a lot of people late in the game who went out and got their jobs done," Hartleb said. "David was outstanding. He drove some balls and had five big RBI. I can't say enough about how these guys never quit. They keep finding ways to win. For the offense to do what they did this weekend, that's really encouraging for me."
Michigan State got on the board with an RBI groundout in the second to go up 1-0. Illinois answered with a three-run third to take a 3-1 lead. Krug plated freshman Ryne Roper with a sacrifice fly and Kerian ripped a two-out, two-run triple to the right field corner that drove in Walton and redshirt-junior Kelly-Norris Jones.
Sophomore Kevin Duchene made his first start since March 14 and allowed one run and four hits in three innings to receive a no decision. Sophomore Ryan Castellanos took over on the mound in the fourth and put up two scoreless stanzas before running into trouble in the sixth.
The Spartans jumped in front 4-3 with a three-run sixth. Castellanos was pinned with all three runs after allowing a leadoff walk and back-to-back singles. Sophomore J.D. Nielsen gave up an RBI double to the only batter he faced and was replaced by freshman Cody Sedlock, who limited the damage with a sacrifice fly before ending the inning.
MSU turned in a four-run seventh to increase its lead to 8-3. The Spartans pushed runs across on an RBI single, an error at third base and a two-run double. Sophomore Tyler Jay took over for Sedlock and stopped the bleeding with the final two outs.
Jay stranded two runners as part of a scoreless eighth and gave up an RBI single in the ninth. The Lemont, Ill., native worked 2.2 innings and earned the win to improve to 4-0 on the year following Fletcher's heroics.
Illinois improved to 11-6 in one-run games on the season. Three teams entered the weekend with 12 one-run wins, which led the NCAA at the start of the week.
Up Next: Illinois will hit the road for its final two Big Ten weekends. The Illini will head to Iowa (May 9-11) next week followed by its final conference series at Nebraska (May 15-17). The 2014 Big Ten Tournament will be held from May 21-25 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.