Illinois Tops Penn State, 7-6, in Big Ten Opener
April 1, 2011
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State baseball team erupted for six runs in the first inning, but Illinois eventually settled down and limited the Nittany Lions to just one hit over the final eight frames as the Illini overcame their early deficit on the way to a 7-6 victory over PSU during the Big Ten opener on a chilly Friday afternoon at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Sean Deegan launched a leadoff home run to start the game off right for Penn State (15-8, 0-1 Big Ten), but Illinois (9-10, 1-0) slowly fought back to pull out the come-from-behind victory.
The game started out promising for the Nittany Lions in the first. After Steven Hill retired Illinois in order in the top of the inning, PSU found its groove quickly. Deegan opened the rally with a blast to right that clanked off the railing in the seating section behind the fence for a leadoff home run. With one on the board, Penn State never let up and continued its early assault.
Luis Montesinos fired a double to left center before scoring on a single by Jordan Steranka. After Joey DeBernardis ripped his league-leading 14th double of the season to plate the third run of the game, Mario Eramo worked a walk. With two on and still no one out, Bobby Jacobs and Michael Glantz laced back-to-back RBI singles up the middle. Clutching a 5-0 lead, the Lions were not quite done as Jacobs moved to third on a sacrifice bunt before Blake Lynd chased him in with a groundout.
Staring at an intimidating six-run hole after just one inning of play, the Illini began to chip away at their deficit. In the second, Adam Davis punched a leadoff single to center, swiped second, and scored on a base hit by Davis Hendrickson. Two innings later, Illinois tacked on another run after Casey McMurray tripled to right center and Davis drove him in with a groundout to third.
With the visitors fighting back, Illinois starter Kevin Johnson found his rhythm on the mound after his tough first frame. He retired the side in order in the second, struck out a pair in the third, and sent the Lions down quietly in the fourth to keep Penn State within reach.
Still trailing by four, Illinois continued to battle. Slowly, the squad whittled away at its deficit, posting an unearned run in the fifth and sixth to pull within two. With Penn State still in a minor rut at the plate, the Illini pulled even with a two-run surge in the seventh. Following a one-out double by Justin Parr, Willie Argo and Casey McMurray both collected RBI singles to knot the game at six.
As their lead evaporated, the Nittany Lions continued to put runners on base without anything to show for it. In the sixth, Lynd singled and stole second but was left stranded in scoring position. One inning later, Penn State drew three walks, but a double play and strikeout eliminated the threat. In the eighth, Glantz advanced to third after a leadoff walk and a wild pitch, but again, Illinois settled down and avoided any damage.
With Penn State coming away empty-handed, the Illini were more fortunate in the top of the ninth. Although reliever Ryan Ignas retired the first two batters, Argo fired a triple into the nook in left center. One batter later, Josh Parr landed the final blow after popping a single up the middle that chased in Argo and gave the visitors a 7-6 advantage.
Holding their first lead of the afternoon, the Illini handed the ball to closer Wes Braun in the ninth. Although Penn State was able to put another runner on after DeBernardis worked a walk, Braun eventually slammed the door with a strikeout to earn his third save of the season.
Will Strack (1-1) picked up the victory after striking out three over 1.1 innings of scoreless relief. Ignas (2-2) took the loss despite allowing just one run on three hits in 2.2 frames out of the bullpen.
The two teams will continue their three-game series tomorrow at 2:05 p.m.