Illini Lose Tight One to Nittany Lions, 3-2

Kevin Johnson tossed his fourth complete game of the season but Illinois fell, 3-2.
Kevin Johnson tossed his fourth complete game of the season but Illinois fell, 3-2.

May 11, 2012

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Illinois scored a run in the fifth to tie the game but Penn State first baseman Jordan Steranka hit a solo homer in the sixth and the Nittany Lions held on for a 3-2 win over the Illini at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Friday. Second baseman Reid Roper reached base four times and Kevin Johnson tossed his fourth complete game of the year in the defeat.

"That's a tough one to lose," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "I thought Kevin put us in position to win. We just didn't do the little things today, like driving in a man from third with one out and making an error on a ball up the middle that turned into a run."

The Illini (26-22 overall, 9-10 in the Big Ten) threatened in the first thanks to a pair of Penn State errors. Center fielder Willie Argo reached when PSU shortstop Elliot Searer bobbled his grounder deep in the hole, then stole second and moved to third when the catcher's throw got past the shortstop. After an out, third baseman Brandon Hohl walked but first baseman Jordan Parr lined out to left to strand the pair of runners.

The Nittany Lions (25-24, 11-8) got on the board in the bottom of the first when left fielder Sean Deegan blasted a leadoff triple to right-center and scored on an RBI groundout. Illini starter Kevin Johnson induced a pop-up to Reid Roper at second base before allowing a two-out double to left-center. But he struck out PSU right fielder Aaron Novak with a curveball in the dirt for the third out as PSU grabbed a 1-0 lead.

Illinois tied it up in the second when Roper drew a leadoff walk and catcher Kelly Norris-Jones lined a 3-2 pitch down the right-field line to move him to third. The right fielder's throw missed the cutoff man and sailed into shallow left field, allowing Roper to scamper home and tie the game, 1-1.

Johnson allowed a one-out single in the second but ended the inning with a 4-3 double play on a ball hit up the middle with the runner in motion. In the third, left fielder Justin Parr knocked a two-out single up the middle and Hohl walked, but Jordan Parr struck out to end the threat.

Searer knocked a leadoff single up the middle in the bottom of the third but Johnson kept him there, thanks to a shallow pop-up to left, a strikeout and a groundout. In the fourth, Roper led off with a single to right and Norris-Jones sacrificed him to second. But he was stranded there after a pair of strikeouts ended the inning.

PSU scratched across a run in the bottom of the fourth. After a leadoff walk, shortstop Thomas Lindauer tried to play a hard chopper up the middle off a short hop and had it glance off the heel of his glove into center field, leaving men on the corners with one out. DH J.J. White lined out to right-center, driving home an unearned run with a sacrifice fly, but the next hitter grounded to Roper, who flipped to Lindauer to end the inning as the Lions grabbed a 2-1 lead.

Illinois manufactured a run without a hit in the fifth as PSU starter Joe Kurrasch walked the bases loaded then surrendered a run with a sacrifice fly by Jordan Parr. Roper was hit by a pitch to load the bases again and the Lions brought in reliever Greg Welch. He induced a high chopper to the right side by Norris-Jones that second baseman Luis Montesinos was able to glove and get Norris-Jones by a hair to retire the side and keep the score tied at 2.

Johnson worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth, keeping the momentum with the Illini. But Illinois went down quietly in the sixth as DH Will Krug worked a one-out walk but was doubled-off first on Lindauer's shallow fly-out to center field, keeping the game tied 2-2.

PSU took its third lead of the night with a solo home run to straightaway center field off the bat of first baseman Jordan Steranka, who crushed a 2-0 fastball from Johnson to give the Lions a 3-2 lead.

Justin Parr reached on a one-out error in the seventh - PSU's fourth of the game - but he was stranded there after a strikeout and a tapper back to the mound. Johnson pitched over a leadoff single in the bottom half as Hohl retired the lead runner on a bad sacrifice bunt attempt and Roper nailed the lead man on a slow chopper to second. Johnson then coaxed a fly-out to Justin Parr in left to end the inning and hold the PSU lead to 3-2.

In the eighth, Roper reached on an error to start the eighth and moved to second on Norris-Jones' sacrifice bunt. Pinch hitter David Kerian, who faced new pitcher Dave Walkling, grounded out to the second baseman, moving Roper to third, and Krug lifted a fly ball to right-center. But right fielder Aaron Novak hauled it in with a full-extension diving attempt to rob Krug of extra bases and keep the Lions on top, 3-2.

Johnson pitched over a leadoff single in the eighth by inducing a 5-4-3 double play and inducing a fly-out to deep center to keep the Illini within 3-2. But Illinois couldn't rally in the ninth as they went down in order to drop the series opener.

Roper reached base four times, going 1-for-2 with a single, a walk, a hit by pitch and reaching on an error. Hohl was 0-for-1 with three walks and Norris-Jones went 1-for-2 with two sacrifice bunts. Johnson was solid on the mound, tossing his fourth complete game of the year, allowing three runs - two earned - on seven hits and a walk in eight innings while striking out three.

The Illini and Lions return to action on Saturday when they face off in game two of the series at 1:05 p.m. CT. Freshman right-hander John Kravetz will get the start for Illinois, while PSU will send junior righty Steven Hill to the mound.