First baseman Jordan Parr’s two out, RBI triple to left center field that scored second baseman Reid Roper in the sixth inning proved to be the difference for the Illini (5-5). Roper accounted for the Illini’s other run in the fourth inning, scoring on Davis Hendrickson’s fielder’s choice to tie the ball game.
But it was Johnson who shined the brightest.
The junior was electric on the mound, but had a lot of help from a stellar defensive performance by the Illini. He attributed his success to hitting his spots with his fastball in the early innings, which allowed him to work in a nasty curveball in the later innings.
“Establishing the fastball is what it is for me,” Johnson said. “If I can hit both sides of the plate that sets up my off-speed really good and I think that’s what I did well tonight.”
Johnson said he had been watching game film of his previous starts so as to not replicate mistakes. The strategy worked as he was not only more effective but felt stronger as the game wore on.
“Usually you get tired out in the sixth, seventh, eighth innings, but I was feeling stronger in that ninth inning just coming out,” Johnson said. “I felt like I knew what I was going to do and what I wanted to do and that was to win.”
At one point Johnson retired eight straight Ducks batters and didn’t give up a hit after third baseman Scott Heineman’s infield single to start the sixth inning. He finished with five strikeouts and only one walk.
The loss snapped a 10 game win streak for the Ducks (10-2), and was their first home loss since blowing a seven run lead to Stanford on May 14 of last season.
Ducks Left fielder Kyle Garlick smacked an RBI double to left field to score first baseman Ryon Healy in the second inning to give the Ducks an early 1-0 lead. But, after that the Ducks bats went cold.
Shortstop J.J. Altobelli registered a single in the third before being thrown out trying to steal second base. He later reached base on a throwing error by Illini shortstop Thomas Lindauer in the eighth inning, but the Ducks were unable to rally.
“A lot of guys hit the ball well, it was just right at guys,” Altobelli said. “There’s nothing you can really control about that.”
On any other night, Ducks senior Alex Keudell’s performance would’ve likely given him a win or at least a no decision. However, Keudell’s one walk to start the fourth inning and a wild pitch two batters later eventually led to the Illini’s first run, shifting momentum in their favor. Parr’s sixth inning triple, which came on a 1-2 count, further highlighted Keudell’s few, but costly mistakes on the hill.
“I still feel like that could have been [zero runs] in eight innings,” he said. “That’s why I feel like its more my fault.”
In eight innings Keudell gave up six hits and two earned runs with six strikeouts. Freshman Tommy Thorpe pitched a scoreless ninth to give the Ducks a shot at winning in the bottom half. Manager George Horton said afterwards that he felt his team had the right attitude heading into the game, but suffered from a sense of urgency in the later innings. Though he acknowledged Keudell’s mistakes, he praised his pitching staff for giving the offense opportunities to climb back into the game.
“They did a nice job and gave us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask your guys to do,” Horton said.
The Ducks now look ahead to a doubleheader tomorrow starting at 3 p.m. against West Virginia, followed by a matchup against No. 22 ranked Oklahoma at 7 p.m.
GAME NOTES –
The game was finished in a quick two hours and five minutes.
Attendance at PK Park was 1847.