Relentless Illini Come From Behind to Down Spartans, 6-5

Mike Rohde belted a three-run homer as Illinois came from behind to defeat Michigan State 6-5, moving within one win of clinching a berth in the Big Ten Tournament.
Mike Rohde belted a three-run homer as Illinois came from behind to defeat Michigan State 6-5, moving within one win of clinching a berth in the Big Ten Tournament.

May 18, 2007

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Sophomore Tanner Roark tied the Illinois record for wins in a Big Ten season by collecting his sixth victory and senior closer Jake Toohey tied the school mark for saves in a conference season by slamming the door for the seventh time in the Illini's 6-5 comeback win over Michigan State in front of 812 fans at Illinois Field. First baseman Mike Rohde launched a three-run homer in the third inning and finished with four RBI, and centerfielder Kyle Hudson was the lone Illini with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBI.

"I've been extremely impressed with our guys," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said. "They went out today and just approached the game like it's another game. They went out and took care of business. We're extremely composed right now and I'm very pleased with where we are."

The Illini are now alone in fifth place, as Ohio State fell to Penn State, 3-2 in 10 innings. After Michigan defeated Iowa, 4-3 in 11 innings, Illinois is now just one game behind the Hawkeyes for fourth. The Illini need to win just one of the final three games against MSU to ensure a spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

Illinois fell behind early as the Spartans touched Illini starter Tanner Roark for a run in the first inning on three hits and three runs on three hits and a walk in the second for a 4-0 lead.

But the Orange and Blue fought back with a three-spot in the third after a two-out walk to third baseman Brandon Wikoff and a fielding error by the second baseman put catcher Lars Davis on base. Rohde then rocked a 2-2 pitch from Craig Brookes over the right-field fence, cutting the margin to 4-3.

From there, Roark appeared to find a groove despite allowing lead-off men to reach base consistently. In the third, he walked the first hitter who was caught stealing at second before Roark retired the next two hitters. An inning later, Roark walked the lead-off man, who was sacrificed to second, but got a strikeout and a groundout to end the threat. In the fifth, he worked his only 1-2-3 inning of the night, but in the sixth he hit the first batter and walked the second. From there he threw out the lead runner at third base on a poorly-executed sacrifice bunt before inducing a line-drive double play to end the inning.

The Illini tied the game in the fifth when Wikoff knocked a one-out base hit, advanced to second on Davis' single through the right side and moved to third when the right-fielder misplayed the bounce. Rohde then drove in Wikoff with a groundout, tying the game, 4-4.

Illinois took its first lead of the game in the sixth when leftfielder Joe Bonadonna ripped a two-out single to left-center and centerfielder Kyle Hudson drove him in with a triple that one-hopped the wall in center, pushing the Illini ahead, 5-4.

The Orange and Blue tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when second baseman Ryan Hastings shot a single up the middle with one out, but was put out on a fielder's choice grounder by Bonadonna, who stole second and advanced to third when the shortstop mishandled the throw. Hudson followed by lining a rope off the pitcher's foot and beating the throw by the second baseman, which sailed to the fence down the first-base line, allowing Bonadonna to score for a 6-4 lead.

Toohey, who recorded the final out of the eighth inning on a strikeout, struck out the first hitter in the ninth and got a foul pop-up for the second out before giving up a double and a single, which cut the lead to 6-5. The Illini closer settled down, though, and induced a ground ball to second for the final out of the game. His seventh save of the year - all of them in Big Ten play - tied Jimmy Journell's Big Ten season record, which he set in 1999.

Roark earned his seventh win of the season, sixth in conference play, tying the school record held by three former Illini (Joe Ziemba, 2004; Andy Dickinson, 2002; Brett Weber, 1996 and 1998). He gave up four runs on seven hits and four walks with four strikeouts.

Offensively, Hudson was a catalyst for the Illini, collecting his 17th multiple-hit game of the year and third triple of the season. Wikoff was 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs, while Bonadonna went 1-for-4 with a steal and two runs.

Up Next: Illinois and Michigan State face off in a Saturday doubleheader with a 1:05 p.m. first pitch. Mike Stankiewicz and Scott Shaw will start for the Illini.