Will Strack tossed four scoreless innings of relief to help the Illini to a 13-9 comeback victory over Ohio State.
May 6, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Will Strack tossed four scoreless innings of relief and Illinois scored six runs in its final three at bats to down Ohio State, 13-9, in front of a season-high crowd of 2,019 at the third-annual Bleacher Bum Barbecue at Illinois Field. Justin Parr, Casey McMurray and Brandon Hohl all collected three hits on the night, with Parr and McMurray each driving in three runs.
Illinois now has won seven of its last nine games and improves to 19-23 overall, 9-7 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes fall to 20-20, 9-7, and the teams are tied with Minnesota for third place in the Big Ten after the Gophers notched a 4-1 win at Michigan on Friday.
The Illini's 17 hits were a season high and their 13 runs were the most since a 14-2 win over Illinois State on March 30. It is Illinois' most runs in a Big Ten game since a 17-12 win at Indiana on May 21, 2010.
"This is the kind of offense that I thought we would have all season," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I was really proud of how our guys kept their composure and fought back throughout the game, finally coming up with that big inning in the sixth. Will Strack was amazing out of the bullpen and Chris Pack and Wes Braun gave us big performances, too."
The Buckeyes struck first, putting four on the board in the top of the first on three hits - including a two-run triple - a hit batter and a sacrifice fly. But Illinois fought back immediately as second baseman Pete Cappetta doubled to left and moved to third on Parr's infield hit. Catcher Adam Davis smacked a single to right, plating Cappetta, and Hohl singled to left to load the bases. McMurray hit a slow chopper to short and the relay throw to first was late as he reached on a fielder's choice and Hohl was put out at second, but Parr scored. McMurray and Davis then executed a double steal to bring the Illini within 4-3.
OSU kept after Illinois starting pitcher Kevin Johnson in the second and they were helped by two Illini errors, as the Buckeyes put three more runs on the board. The Illini battled back in the bottom half when Davis Hendrickson reached on an error by the first baseman and scored on shortstop Josh Parr's triple to left-center. After an out, Justin Parr drove home his brother with a sacrifice fly and Davis was hit by a pitch. Hohl singled to left and McMurray shot a single through the right side to plate Davis, cutting OSU's lead to 7-6.
But the Buckeyes finally ended Johnson's night in the third, despite the fact that he retired the first two hitters he faced in the frame on only five pitches. He gave up three singles, a stolen base and an RBI double as the Scarlet and Gray extended its lead to 9-6 with two more runs.
Josh Parr started the rally in the third with a one-out walk but was put out on Cappetta's grounder to shortstop. Cappetta stole second and came home on Justin Parr's single to center, but Davis grounded out to end the inning as the Illini drew within 9-7.
Will Strack, who finished the third inning, gave up a one-out single in the fourth but that runner was thrown out at second attempting to move up on a pitch in the dirt. Strack then struck out OSU DH Jacob Hayes to end the frame, the first scoreless inning for either team in the game.
Hohl started the bottom of the fourth by being hit by a pitch but he was erased on a double play. Dittman walked after an eight-pitch at bat but Argo flew out to end the frame.
Strack found a groove in the fifth, retiring the Buckeyes on only five pitches. Illinois kept putting pressure on OSU in the bottom half as Hendrickson led off with a single and Josh Parr singled to left-center. Parr was put out on Cappetta's grounder, but the senior hustled down the line to break up the double play. Justin Parr bounced into an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play on which he was put out by an eyelash, keeping the Illini off the board.
Strack put up another zero in the sixth, striking out the first hitter and inducing a pair of groundouts for a quick inning. OSU inserted reliever Jared Strayer into the game in the bottom half and he hit Davis on a 3-1 count to start the frame. Hohl then doubled to left, moving Davis to third, and McMurray drove in Davis with a base hit to center. After an out, Argo ripped a single to left that drove in Hohl. One out later, Josh Parr walked to load the bases and Cappetta knocked a single down the left-field line, driving in a pair, to give Illinois its first lead of the game at 11-9.
Strack struck out the first hitter of the seventh inning before giving up a hit and inducing a groundout. But he walked the next hitter on four pitches and was relieved by Chris Pack, who coaxed an inning-ending groundout to first base.
The Illini added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh when McMurray singled with two outs and Dittman lofted a shallow fly ball to center off the end of the bat that dropped in for a hit. Since there were two outs, McMurray had taken off on contact and was able to score ahead of the throw home that was up the first-base line, making the Illinois lead 12-9.
Pack worked an easy eighth, fanning the first hitter before inducing a pair of groundouts to retire the side on eight pitches. The Orange and Blue added a run in the bottom half off reliever David Fathalikhani. Josh Parr was hit with one out and stole second. He moved up a base on Cappetta's deep fly-out to right-center and scored on Justin Parr's base hit up the middle, making the margin 13-9.
Wes Braun came on in the ninth and coaxed a foul pop-up to Hohl and a fly-out to Argo before walking a hitter. But he struck out Hayes to end the game.
Strack was incredible out of the bullpen, tossing four scoreless innings and allowing only two hits and a walk while striking out three. Pack struck out one in a perfect 1 1/3 inning stint and Braun walked one and struck out one in the ninth.
McMurray paced the offense, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs, two runs and a steal, and Justin Parr was 3-for-5 with three RBIs and a run. Hohl went 3-for-5 with a double and a run, and Cappetta was 2-for-6 with a double, a steal, two RBIs and two runs. Josh Parr went 2-for-2 with two walks, a triple, an RBI, two runs and a steal. Davis was 1-for-3 with a steal, an RBI and three runs, while Dittman and Argo each recorded a hit as every Illini starter notched at least one hit.
The same two teams return to Illinois Field at 3:05 p.m. on Saturday for the second game of the series. Illinois will send right-hander John Anderson to the hill while OSU will give the ball to right-hander Brett McKinney.