Johnson, Jay Stymie Iowa for Fifth Straight Win, 4-1

Starter Drasen Johnson had seven strikeouts in his fifth win of the season.
Starter Drasen Johnson had seven strikeouts in his fifth win of the season.

May 9, 2014

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - Illini pitchers Drasen Johnson and Tyler Jay shined on the mound and junior Casey Fletcher turned in his third straight game-winning hit in Illinois' 4-1 victory over Iowa. Johnson allowed one run in the first inning before he and Jay followed it with eight scoreless stanzas. Fletcher blooped a go-ahead two-out, two-run single in the sixth that propelled Illinois to its fifth straight win.

"It was an opportunistic game for us, as we took advantage with two outs in crucial situations," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I feel fortunate to come away with the win because I didn't think we played very well. We made numerous errors and didn't have great pitch selection, but the bottom line is we found a way to win."

Illinois (28-17) improved to 7-0 in Big Ten road games this season and moved alone into second place in the conference standings at 14-5. Nebraska, which is 13-5 in the Big Ten, will begin its series at Michigan State on Saturday. Iowa dropped to 27-18 overall and 8-11 in Big Ten play, as the two teams met for the first time since 2011.

Iowa got on the board in the first frame with an RBI double, which proved it be its lone run. The Hawkeyes had three hits in the opening stanza, but only drove one home, as Johnson had a double play in the inning. The Illini starter left a runner in scoring position in each of the first five innings.

Junior David Kerian was the only Illini base runner in the first four innings, reaching twice via the walk. Sophomore Ryan Nagle broke up the no-hitter with a two-out single through the right side in the fifth. Nagle stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and came home as the tying run on sophomore Adam Walton's RBI single into right field.

A one-out walk to freshman Matthew James and single by Kerian forced an Iowa pitching change in the sixth, as Nick Hibbing replaced Blake Hickman, who had nine strikeouts. Hibbing hit sophomore Jason Goldstein with his first pitch but got a line drive to left for the second out. One pitch later, Fletcher blooped a single over the third baseman's head that plated James and Kerian for a 3-1 lead.

Johnson retired the side in order for the first time in the sixth and was relieved by Jay with one out and two on in the seventh. The Illini closer dominated the final 2.2 innings, striking out the first five batters he faced.

"Drasen settled down and got us deep into the game," Hartleb said. "Tyler came in and was really good tonight. It was a very good team win."

The Illini pushed across an insurance run in the ninth when Fletcher scored on an Iowa error. Both teams totaled seven hits, as both Fletcher and Walton went 2-for-4 for Illinois. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week now has 12 RBI in his last five games.

Johnson (5-5) got back to .500 with one run and seven strikeouts over 6.1 innings, while Jay did not allow a hit and picked up his eighth save. The Lemont, Ill., native is tied for the fifth-most saves in a season in school history.

Up Next: Illinois will be back in action early on Saturday with an 11 a.m. first pitch against Iowa. Junior John Kravetz (5-1, 3.09 ERA) will toe the rubber against lefty Sasha Kuebel (6-3, 4.35 ERA) live on the Big Ten Network, with Kevin Kugler and Scott Pose on the call.