Illini Clinch Big Ten Tournament Berth, Top Gophers, 4-3

Redshirt-sophomore Drasen Johnson tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief and improved to 3-1.
Redshirt-sophomore Drasen Johnson tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief and improved to 3-1.

May 17, 2013

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Despite a two-hour rain delay at Siebert Field, Illinois clinched a spot in next week's Big Ten Tournament with a 4-3 victory over Minnesota. With losses by Michigan and Michigan State on Friday, the Illini locked up a spot in the conference's top six and moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten at 14-9 following their fifth consecutive win. The Illini bullpen only allowed two hits over the final 4.1 innings, as reliever Drasen Johnson (3-1) earned the win and closer Bryan Roberts notched his sixth save.

"It was a very tough and hard-fought game," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "The thing that stood out the most to me was that when Minnesota made mistakes, we were able to capitalize and push runs across early. Our bullpen was very good today and Ryan gave us a solid start."

The Illini took advantage of four Minnesota errors on the day, scoring a pair of unearned runs due to Gopher miscues. When it started to rain in the top of the second, redshirt-junior Jordan Parr reached first and advanced to second on a throwing error by the third baseman. After a sacrifice bunt, sophomore David Kerian made them pay with an RBI single. With UI ahead 1-0, the game went into a rain delay for two hours in the middle of the second.

"Our guys were very loose after the rain delay," Hartleb said. "I told them to make sure to get their legs loose when we got back out there, but Thomas Lindauer told me they are loose because they played Capture the Flag inside."

Minnesota evened it at one apiece in the bottom of the second once the game resumed. The Illini responded with two runs in the top of the third to take a 3-1 lead. Junior Thomas Lindauer extended his career-high hitting streak to 11 games with an RBI double that plated senior Davis Hendrickson, who walked to lead off the stanza. Sophomore Michael Hurwitz brought home Hurwitz when the Gopher shortstop had a grounder go through his legs, allowing Lindauer to score.

Hurwitz knocked in Lindauer again in the fifth and earned an RBI this time on a double to right center. Starter Ryan Castellanos, who struck out five over 4.2 innings, ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth with a 4-1 lead. After an RBI single made it a 4-2 game, Castellanos got a strikeout for the second out but hit the next batter and was replaced by freshman J.D. Nielsen, who walked the bases loaded. Johnson entered in the tight spot and ended the threat with a fly out to center.

Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 sixth and gave up his only hit in the seventh but followed it up with a fly out and a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Junior Ronnie Muck took over in the eighth and hit the leadoff batter, who later scored on an RBI single. Despite the run, Muck kept the Illini in front, 4-3. Roberts worked a perfect ninth to close out the win and notched his 15th career save, which ranks fourth in school history.

Illinois improved to 33-15 overall, which is one win shy of equaling the most wins (34) during the Hartleb era. By clinching a spot in the conference tournament, the Illini will play in the Big Ten Tournament for the sixth time in Hartleb's eight years at the helm. The Illini will remain in Minneapolis following the Minnesota series with the tournament scheduled from May 22-25 at Target Field.

Up Next: Illinois will go for the sweep of Minnesota on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. Sophomore John Kravetz will go up against DJ Snelten on the mound. The Illini will clinch the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a victory and finish as the No. 5 seed with a loss.