Bats Can't Back Up Johnson against Michigan State, 2-1
May 21, 2014
OMAHA, Neb. - No. 3 Illinois' comeback streak against No. 6 Michigan State came to an end on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament opener, falling 2-1 to the Spartans at TD Ameritrade Park. Starter Drasen Johnson tied his career high with 10 strikeouts, but the Illini offense left 12 men on base and only scored on a bases-loaded walk.
"Drasen has been good for us all year, but we haven't given him any run support at all," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "He had a tough first two innings but battled his way through it. The winning run was an inning where we didn't talk on defense and didn't get an out on a bunt play. Drasen deserved to win again today, but we didn't get our jobs done."
MSU's Cam Gibson started the game with a leadoff home run, marking the only earned run allowed by Johnson. The Chillicothe, Illinois, native escaped further damage by leaving runners in scoring position in the first. The Illini redshirt-junior stranded two more runners in the second before cruising through the next two innings.
IIllinois, which put the leadoff runner on in five of the first six innings, pushed across its only run without having a ball leave the infield in the third. Freshman Matthew James reached on a two-base throwing error by the shortstop to begin the inning. Two outs later, the Illini earned three straight free passes. Redshirt-junior Reid Roper took a hit by pitch followed by a walk to junior Casey Fletcher. Freshman Ryne Roper collected an RBI when he drew a walk that brought James home.
The Spartans capitalized on an Illini error and scored the winning run without hitting a ball to the outfield in the fifth. After a leadoff single, Johnson slipped fielding a bunt, which allowed Gibson to reach on a throwing error. MSU loaded the bases on another bunt following a miscommunication between the Illini fielders. Michigan State's go-ahead run came on a 6-4-3 double play that would have ended the inning if not for the error.
The Illini struck out eight times over the final six innings and failed to score on their best opportunity in the sixth. A leadoff walk to Fletcher and a one-out single by sophomore Ryan Nagle put runners on the corners but two straight strikeouts ended the threat.
Sophomore Jason Goldstein ripped a two-out double in the seventh and redshirt-junior Kelly Norris-Jones blooped a two-single in the ninth, but the Illini failed to collect back-to-back hits in the contest. The Orange and Blue out-hit the Spartans 7-6 and lost for just the sixth time this season when doing so.
Senior Ronnie Muck pitched the final two scoreless innings, as the Illini dropped to 11-8 in one-run games this year. Illinois (31-20), which swept Michigan State (30-24) with three one-run comeback victories in Champaign, came up short to MSU for the first time in 2014 and second time in five Big Ten Tournament meetings.
Johnson fell to 5-7 despite allowing two or fewer runs for the eighth time this season. The Illini, who average 2.4 runs of support with Johnson on the mound, scored two or fewer runs for the 10th time behind Johnson.
Up Next: Illinois will play again at 9 a.m. on Thursday at TD Ameritrade Park against No. 7 Ohio State, who lost to No. 2 Nebraska after giving up four runs in the ninth to fall 7-6.