Casey McMurray was swarmed by his teammates after his walk-off home run gave the Illini a 4-3 win over Indiana on Thursday.
May 19, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Senior left-fielder Casey McMurray made his first home run of 2011 count as he ripped a one-out blast in the bottom of the ninth to give Illinois a 4-3 win over Indiana on Thursday and move into sole possession of second place in a hotly contested Big Ten race. Matt Dittman and Brandon Hohl also belted solo homers - the third time this season that Illinois has hit three long balls in a single game - and Kevin Johnson posted his second-straight quality start, allowing two earned runs in 8 2/3 innings.
"I came up and had a chance, and I have to give my teammates credit for giving me the opportunity to do that," McMurray said. "Kevin Johnson pitched a great game and we battled all game to get in that position. I got a pitch to drive - it was an inside fastball about belt-high - I turned on it and it felt good. It was good to get this win. It was big for us."
With the win, Illinois improves to 13-9 in the Big Ten and remains a game behind league-leading Michigan State, which holds a 14-8 conference record. Minnesota drops a half-game behind the Illini after splitting a doubleheader with Ohio State on Thursday, with the Gophers moving to 13-10 in the conference. Purdue stands at 12-10, Ohio State at 12-11, and Indiana and Penn State tied for sixth at 11-11.
"If you had told me that we had won this game hitting three home runs, I would have told you that you were at the wrong ballpark, especially with the flags hanging down tonight," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "That's one thing that was impressive: those balls that were hit were absolutely crushed. I'm really happy for Casey. He went through some scuffles early in the year and he stayed with things, and he's been a big part of why we're where we are right now."
Indiana struck first with a run in the second inning when DH Alex Dickerson singled sharply to center and Willie Argo tried to cut it off, but the ball skipped under his glove and Dickerson ended up on third base. He came home on first baseman Jerrud Sabourin's sacrifice fly, putting the Hoosiers up 1-0.
But Illini first baseman tied it up with a two-out solo home run to right field on a 3-2 pitch from Indiana starter Joey DeNato in the bottom of the second.
The Hoosiers went back on top in the third after an infield single by left fielder Brian Lambert that Hohl gloved behind the bag and threw to first, but Dittman's swipe tag missed as Lambert slid in safely. Lambert appeared to walk toward second base and was tagged, but Lambert remained on first because he did not make an aggressive move toward second base. He moved up on a groundout to second baseman Pete Cappetta and came home on a double to left-center by second baseman Micah Johnson to push Indiana ahead, 2-1.
In the fourth, Indiana catcher Wes Wilson turned on a 1-2 offering from Kevin Johnson and ripped it just inside the left-field foul pole for a solo homer, pushing the Hoosier lead to 3-1.
The Illini got a run back in the fifth when Dittman drew a leadoff walk and Argo singled through the right side. They moved up on a wild pitch and, after an out, Dittman scored on shortstop Josh Parr's sacrifice fly, cutting Indiana's lead to 3-2.
Hohl tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out homer over the scoreboard in left on an 0-1 pitch by Hoosier starter Joey DeNato, ending DeNato's day. But reliever Chad Martin coaxed a first-pitch fly-out from McMurray to end the inning.
Lambert led off the top of the seventh with a base hit up the middle and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. But Johnson sandwiched a shallow fly-out to Argo and a groundout to Hohl around a walk to end the inning and keep the score tied.
Josh Parr was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the eighth and Cappetta dropped down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move him to second. But DH Justin Parr flew out to deep left-center and catcher Adam Davis flew out to right to end the inning, stranding Josh Parr at second.
Johnson worked into the ninth, striking out the first hitter he faced before hitting Lambert on the left elbow. He coaxed a fly-out to Argo for the second out but walked right fielder T.C. Knipp to put men on first and second. Luke Joyce relieved him and induced a groundout to Cappetta to end the inning and keep Indiana off the board.
Hohl hammered the first pitch he saw from Martin to start the bottom of the ninth, but it fell just short of the warning track in left for the first out of the inning. Indiana head coach Tracy Smith went to the bullpen for closer Ryan Halstead, who came in to face McMurray. The count went to 2-2 before McMurray caught a belt-high fastball on the inside part of the plate and ripped it over the wall in left field for the game-winning home run and a 4-3 Illini victory.
Hohl led the offense, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo homer, while Josh Parr was 1-for-1 with a triple, an RBI and was hit by a pitch. Dittman went 1-for-2 with a solo homer, two runs and a walk, and McMurray was 1-for-4 with the walk-off home run.
Johnson posted his second-straight strong outing, allowing three runs - two earned - on eight hits and three walks while striking out eight in 8 2/3 innings. It was the most strikeouts he has recorded since also fanning eight at Michigan on April 15. Joyce recorded the final out of the ninth to earn his first career victory as an Illini.
Illinois will look for its fifth-straight series win on Friday when right-hander John Anderson takes the hill for the final time at Illinois Field in a 6:05 p.m. start. Indiana will counter with junior left-hander Blake Monar.