Illini Score Twice in Eighth to Beat Gophers 7-5

Ronnie Muck tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory in Illinois' 7-5 win over Minnesota on Thursday.
Ronnie Muck tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory in Illinois' 7-5 win over Minnesota on Thursday.

May 17, 2012

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Postgame Interviews: Coach Hartleb | Justin Parr | Thomas Lindauer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois scored twice in the bottom of the eighth and Reid Roper slammed the door with a perfect ninth inning as the Illini stayed alive in the hunt for the postseason with a 7-5 win over Minnesota at Illinois Field on Thursday. The Orange and Blue got a run when Gopher reliever Tom Windle threw a pitch to the backstop on an attempted intentional walk, then Jordan Parr drove home Willie Argo with a safety squeeze bunt. It was only the Illini's second win in their last at bat this season and first since a 9-8 victory at Lamar on Feb. 26, the seventh game of the season.

Illinois (27-24 overall, 10-12 in the Big Ten) scored four runs with two outs as the Illini drew even with the Gophers (28-26, 10-12) in seventh place in the Big Ten, one game behind Ohio State (11-11) for the sixth and final spot in next week's Big Ten Tournament at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio. The Orange and Blue need one more win than the Buckeyes over the season's final two games in order to clinch a postseason berth.

Ronnie Muck tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory and every Illini starter had at least one hit. The top three hitters in the order - Thomas Lindauer, Willie Argo and Justin Parr - combined to go 6-for-12 with five runs, and DH Thomas Shelton was 3-for-5 with an RBI.

"We moved runners tonight and that's something that we've talked about all year," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "We're not a team that likes to bunt a lot. Especially early in the game, we need to be able to hit behind runners, use the holes, because that's when you have big innings.

"But against a pitcher (Gopher starter T.J. Oakes) who had a sub-2.00 ERA coming into the game, it's very important to get a run whenever you can. Every time we sacrificed, we did produce, and it's not just the person getting the bunt down and moving the runner, it's somebody behind them coming up with the big hit, so it was great team baseball."

Illini starting pitcher Kevin Johnson allowed a leadoff single in the first before inducing a pair of line-outs to left fielder Justin Parr. After another base hit up the middle, he coaxed a lazy fly ball that Parr straddled the left-field line to haul in for the third out, stranding a pair of runners.

In the bottom of the first, center fielder Willie Argo beat out a base hit to the shortstop with one out and Justin Parr singled to center. One out later, DH Thomas Shelton lined a base hit to right-center, plating Argo, and third baseman Brandon Hohl ripped an RBI single to left-center that scored Parr for a 2-0 Illini lead.

Johnson issued a two-out walk in the second but induced a groundout to shortstop Thomas Lindauer to end the frame. Catcher Alex Lincoln dropped a one-out base hit into center then, one out later, Argo stroked a single through the left side. Justin Parr ripped one to the right side, but Gopher second baseman Michael Handel had shifted into position and ranged into the hole to retire the side.

Johnson retired the Gophers in order in the third, then Hohl drew a two-out walk in the bottom half and second baseman Reid Roper doubled down the line in right. Gopher right fielder Kurt Schlangen was able to cut it off from getting down the corner, saving a run, and Minnesota pitcher T.J. Oakes induced a tapper back to the mound by right fielder Davis Hendrickson for the third out as he kept the Illini off the board in the frame.

Minnesota put men on the corners with one out in the fourth after a hit batter and a single to left-center, but Johnson induced a foul pop-up and a groundout to Hohl to keep the Gophers off the board.

Illinois added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth as Lincoln knocked a leadoff single back through the middle. Two outs later, Justin Parr smoked a triple off the wall in enter, driving in Lincoln, and first baseman Jordan Parr singled to right-center to drive home his brother. Shelton singled to center and Hohl reached on an error by Gopher third baseman Kyle Geason, but Oakes wriggled out of the jam when Roper lined a ball directly to Schlangen in right as Illinois extended its lead to 4-0.

But Johnson lost his touch in the fifth, allowing four singles, two walks and a sacrifice fly before being relieved by Ronnie Muck with the bases loaded and one out. Muck walked in a run and gave up an RBI single before retiring the next two hitters as the Gophers pulled ahead, 5-4.

Illinois drew even in the bottom of the fifth when Hendrickson slashed a leadoff single to left and moved to second on Lincoln's sacrifice bunt. Lindauer then turned on the first pitch he saw from Oakes, ripping it into the left-field line for an RBI double. He stole third, but Argo struck out and, after the Gophers brought in left-handed reliever Tom Windle, Justin Parr grounded out to shortstop as the fifth ended with the score tied 5-5.

Muck allowed a two-out walk in the sixth but induced a groundout to Hohl to end the frame. Windle fanned a pair in retiring the Illini in order in the bottom half, then Muck pitched over a two-out error to leave a Gopher at first in the seventh.

Roper tried to bunt his way on to start the bottom of the seventh, but his attempt went right back to Windle, who tossed to first for an out. The Gopher lefty then struck out the next two hitters to keep the game tied at 5 through seven innings.

Muck continued to deal in the eighth, requiring only eight pitches to retire Minnesota in order. Windle entered the bottom of the eighth having retired all seven hitters he had faced, but Lindauer led off the frame by dropping a base hit into center, then Argo walked on five pitches. Justin Parr sacrificed the runners up a base each, then Windle attempted to intentionally walk Jordan Parr but threw the first pitch to the backstop, allowing Lindauer to score. Parr then laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt toward third base, with Argo scampering home to put the Illini ahead 7-5.

Roper moved to the mound in the ninth and needed only 12 pitches to retire the Gophers in order. Minnesota first baseman flew out to deep left-center, then Hohl made a nifty bare-handed play on a bunt by pinch hitter Jake Bergren. Roper then punched out DH Bobby Juan to end the game, earning his second save.

Shelton paced the offense, going 3-for-5 with an RBI, while Justin Parr was 2-for-4 with a triple, an RBI and two runs. Argo went 2-for-4 with two runs, and Lindauer was 2-for-4 with a double, a steal, an RBI and a run. Lincoln went 2-for-3 with a run and Jordan Parr was 1-for-4 with two RBIs.

Muck earned the win by pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, striking out three, allowing only one hit and walking two. Roper tossed a perfect ninth with one strikeout.

Game two of the series begins at 6:05 p.m. on Friday, with Illinois sending right-handed freshman John Kravetz to the mound and the Gophers giving the ball to left-handed sophomore D.J. Snelten.