Ho hum… another walk-off win for the Illini. What else is new?
Hehe, I can’t pull that complacent shtick off, I am psyched as all get out. Maybe I got worried a bit watching the Illinois-Ohio State game on my friend’s wide screen TV in his basement but I’ll tell you this: When we were down 4-1 in eighth inning, I told my friend, “just wait, they’ll come back”. And so they did winning 5-4 over the Ohio State Buckeyes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We need to address the matter of Kevin Johnson. Johnson (left) in my opinion, was pitching one of the best games of the his season. He was painting the outside corners like a French Impressionist. I’m used to watching the games from the left field lines and not from the pitcher’s angle, that’s new to me, does he pitch like that ALL the time? Aside from a solo shot to Buckeye Brian DeLucia, Johnson was practically unhittable.
That is, until the eighth inning when a ball hit in front of Willie Argo missed his glove and Argo slipped on the wet turf going after it. When all was said and done, Greg Solomon had cleared the bases with a inside the park homerun. Chris Pack came in to relieve after one more single but couldn’t stop a run-scoring double. The score after 8 innings: 4-1. My thought when Pack came in, there goes any chance for a win for Johnson no matter how much he deserves it.
But Pack was fantastic in the top of ninth. After a leadoff walk, he retired the OSU batters three in a row.
Now what I saying about a comeback walk-off win? Oh yeah! The Buckeyes had uber-star firstbaseman/closer Josh Desze on the mound. From what I can gather, Desze is the real thing (he has already been drafted by the Yankees out of high school). Not only can he hit (42 rbis) but he can throw the ball hard. His velocity on pitches last night hovered around 92-96 mph. But there is a downfall to this freshman. He tends to be a little wild. He already game two walks in the 8th inning. Why is that important? It brought the top of the Illini lineup for the 9th inning.
Pete Cappetta lined a full count double into left center to lead the inning off. He advanced to third on a Desze wild pitch and then scored on a Justin Parr base hit. An out and another wild pitch later, Parr was on third, down by 2. A base hit by Brandon Hohl drove home Parr making it 4-3.
By now, I was nodding my head and saying, ‘See? See?’ to my friend. ‘They’re going to come back!
Pat Sheehan ran for Hohl at first. An out later, Matt Dittman walked putting runners on first and second. Willie Argo (‘eager to atone’ claim the broadcasters) banged out a game tying single which in my opinion could have easily had gotten Sheehan out at the plate if the throw would have been on line. Fortunately, it wasn’t. Tie game.
Finally, Davis Hendrickson, hero of last Saturday’s game against Indiana, was once again the go-to guy. Hendrickson (left) hit the first pitch up the middle for a single scoring Matt Dittman and winning the game 5-4.
Here is a link to the video press conference after the game with Coach Hartleb, Davis Hendrickson and Willie Argo
A couple notes on the game:
This was reliever Chris Pack’s 7th win of the year. He now leads all Illini in wins for the season.
Pete Cappetta and Justin Parr came into the game leading the Big Ten in hitting in conference play. For the night, they both had three hits.
Willie Argo didn’t look pretty on that Solomon inside the park homerun but let’s face it. We’ve seen four of five instances of outfielders slipping and sliding out there. Knowing Willie, he was hustling and his feet were just ahead of his body
Heard an interesting stat last night: Illinois has outscored their opponents in the ninth inning or later by a 40-10 margin. Somehow I’m not surprised by that stat.
In other news and looking ahead
Earlier Thursday, Michigan State had no trouble with Purdue beating them 7-1 behind the pitching of Kurt Wunderlich.
And even before that, Minnesota sent Penn State packing for home defeating them 8-2.
With Illinois’ win, they will face they only other undefeated team in the tourney, Michigan State. As long as the weather cooperates, game time is set for 6pm CT. An advantage for the Illini? They won’t have to face Pitcher of the Year Wunderlich who pitched yesterday.
and this just in as I’m typing this: Today, Minnesota knocks Ohio State out of the tournament winning 9-4.
Last bit o’ commentary
I can’t emphasize how important tonight’s game will be. These two teams are the only two undefeated teams left. Is it the precursor to the Big Ten Tournament Championship game? Maybe. I will say the winning team comes out of tonight’s game in a very good spot. The ultimate goal after all is to not lose two games and both MSU and Illinois have done their best to avoid that.
Minnesota fans have to be happy with the Golden Gophers, though. After their initial loss to Ohio State in the very first game of the Tournament, they have struck back to win two in a row including a revenge win against the Buckeyes. Keep your eye on them.