Illini Blast Spartans, 16-5, to Advance in Big Ten Tourney
May 20, 2009
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Right fielder Pete Cappetta (Lisle, Ill.) tied the Big Ten Tournament record with three doubles and Illinois scored its most runs in a conference tournament game as the Illini smashed fifth-seeded Michigan State, 16-5, Wednesday at Huntington Park to win their third-straight opening game in the Big Ten Tournament. Cappetta finished 4-for-5 with three doubles, three RBIs and four runs, and second baseman Josh Parr (Chillicothe, Ill.) tied his career high with four hits and set a new career best with four RBIs. The Illini will face Big Ten champion and top-seeded Ohio State Thursday at 6:05 p.m. (CDT) in the tournament's second round.
"That's a good way to start off a tournament," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. "We got a very well-pitched game by Phil (Haig). We started off a little rougher and had some missed opportunities, but if you look at our box scores, we've come from behind several times this season, so our guys are used to coming from behind."
After needing only seven pitches in the second inning, Illinois starter Phil Haig (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) gave up a two-out grand slam home run to Spartan catcher Eric Roof after surrendering consecutive base hits and a hit batter to load the bases as MSU took a 4-0 lead. The Illini had a pair of base runners in the third after two-out walks by left fielder Casey McMurray (Willow Springs, Ill.) and shortstop Brandon Wikoff (Peoria, Ill.), but Moody recorded his fifth strikeout of the game to dodge the threat.
But after Haig worked a 1-2-3 fourth, Illinois broke out the bats in the bottom half. Johnson started the inning with an infield hit and Argo smoked a double to the wall in left-center. One out later, right fielder Pete Cappetta (Lisle, Ill.) stayed hot with a double to the gap in right-center to drive home both runners. Second baseman Josh Parr (Chillicothe, Ill.) legged out a single to shortstop and beat the double-play turn on his grounder to third, leaving men at the corners with two out. McMurray lined a first-pitch single to right-center, driving home Cappetta and moving Bonadonna to third, and Wikoff laced a single to right to score Bonadonna and move McMurray to third. Altobelli came through with a single through the right side to drive home McMurray and finish the five-run inning, posting the Illini to a 5-4 lead.
Haig allowed a leadoff walk in the fifth but erased it with a double-play before striking out MSU third baseman A.J. Shindler looking. In the bottom half, Argo drew a leadoff walk and first baseman Matt Dittman (Libertyville, Ill.) hit a blooper to shallow right-center, which was nearly caught by second baseman Chris Roberts. The ball fell out of his glove as he tumbled over right fielder Eli Boike, but Roberts was able to throw to second and get Argo on the force play as he was forced to hold up on the pop-up. But it was no matter as Cappetta singled up the middle and Parr doubled to the left-field corner to bring in Dittman. Center fielder Joe Bonadonna (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) lifted a sacrifice fly to drive in Cappetta for a 7-4 lead.
Haig worked around a one-out walk and a bunt single by getting consecutive groundouts, allowing his offense to go back to work in the bottom of the sixth. That's when the Illini broke the game open with a seven-run frame on five hits and two errors. Wikoff reached on an error to start the inning and, one out later, Johnson reached on another error. Argo singled to left to bring in Wikoff and Dittman smacked a double to the wall in right-center to plate Johnson and Argo. Cappetta followed with his second double of the day, scoring Dittman, and Parr singled to right to drive in Cappetta. Bonadonna walked and McMurray singled up the middle to plate Parr. Wikoff brought home Bonadonna with a groundout to finish the scoring as Illinois jumped out to a 14-4 advantage.
The Illini left-hander went back out for the seventh inning and needed only five pitches to set down the Spartans, inducing a come-backer to the mound, a grounder to Parr and a lazy pop-up to Altobelli. Illinois added two more runs in the bottom half, with Johnson leading off with a single before being put out on Argo's grounder. One out later, Cappetta tied the Big Ten Tournament record with his third double and Parr drove in two more runs with his single to right, making the Illini lead 16-4.
Illini reliever Aaron Martin (Georgetown, Ill.) entered in the eighth and gave up a run after three singles to start the inning. But the run scored on a double play and Martin got out of the inning with another groundout. Martin struck out the first two hitters he faced in the ninth before allowing a walk. But he coaxed a grounder to Parr to end the game as Illinois won, 16-5.
Cappetta had a career day, going 4-for-5 with three doubles, three RBIs and four runs. Parr tied his career high with four hits and his four RBIs were a new career best, as he went 4-for-5 with a double, four RBIs and a run. Argo was 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and three runs, reaching base in all five plate appearances. McMurray was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run, and Wikoff was on base four times while driving in two runs. Johnson also was 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Haig finished his day with seven solid innings, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts to improve to 7-3 on the year.
The Fighting Illini will square off with Big Ten Champion Ohio State Thursday at 6:05 p.m. CT, with Illinois' Will Strack facing Ohio State's Co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Alex Wimmers.