CHAMPAIGN — This was not a new experience for John Kravetz.
After getting scorched by a no-doubt-about-it home run on his fourth pitch Saturday and then yielding a double to the right-field wall by the next batter, the Illinois freshman pitcher flashed back to his high school days. Specifically to the day when the then-Chicago Mount Carmel junior gave up a homer to the first batter he faced in a game against Tinley Park Andrew.
"That was actually in the back of my mind," Kravetz said. "That was the only run (Andrew) got. So I was like, 'I've done this before so no big deal.' "
Kravetz's been-there-done-that approach served the right-hander well as he tried to regroup against an Indiana lineup that had racked up 12 runs against Illini pitching one night earlier.
After limiting the first-inning damage to two runs, Kravetz shut out the Hoosiers on four hits for the next six frames.
When he departed with one out in the top of the eighth, Illinois was well on its way to a 7-3 Big Ten victory at Illinois Field.
"After that first inning, John really settled in," Illini shortstop Thomas Lindauer said. "He did a great job of controlling the game."
Kravetz (5-2) ended up holding Indiana to eight hits and three runs in 71/3 innings. Sophomore Ronnie Muck took it from there, shutting out the Hoosiers the rest of the way for his second career save.
Kravetz blamed his rocky start on being "a little hyped up and a little excited."
"I had no choice but to settle down," he added. "I just wanted to get back and start throwing quality strikes, mix in all my pitches. It turned out all right, and we'll take the win."
When Kravetz gave up hits to three of the first four Hoosiers he faced, UI coach Dan Hartleb had his own flashback — to Indiana's seven-run third inning Friday night. Illinois never recovered in a 12-3 loss.
"I was obviously concerned in the first inning because of the way the game went yesterday," he said. "You wonder how guys will handle it mentally when you get off to the rocky start."
Hartleb specifically wondered about Kravetz, who has not been immune to the big inning in his brief college career. In his first Big Ten start against Nebraska on March 24, Kravetz allowed nine runs (eight earned) during the second inning while failing to record an out. Three days later, he was roughed up for six runs in the fourth inning at Illinois State.
"In the past, he's let (innings) snowball and all the sudden it's four, five, six, seven runs," the UI coach said. "Today ... things didn't go well for him, but he didn't panic. He kept throwing good pitches, ends up getting out of (the first inning) with two runs, and then he settled in and gave us a great game.
"So he made another step, and that's part of maturing."
Kravetz's veteran-like approach to his early adversity couldn't have come at a better time for Illinois (16-12). Had the Illini lost, they would have fallen to 1-4 in the Big Ten and been assured of losing two straight conference series to open the league race.
Instead, Illinois enters Sunday's series finale with a chance to even its Big Ten record at 3-3.
"You don't want to lose the series in the first two days," Lindauer said. "The best we could do today is get even, and I thought we came out with a good mind-set and really put the pressure on them after that first inning."
Lindauer's single to open the third inning ignited a four-run outburst that gave Illinois the lead for good. Justin Parr and Brandon Hohl each had RBI singles during the rally, while Jordan Parr contributed a run-scoring ground-out. One of two Indiana errors in the inning plated the other Illini run.
Illinois ended up belting out 12 hits in the first seven innings in building a 7-2 lead. Lindauer cited the Illini's patience at the plate — patience that forced a trio of Hoosiers to throw a combined 152 pitches.
"We made their pitchers work every inning," said Lindauer, one of five Illini to get two hits. "And that's going to make their (starter) tired. It's going to get to their bullpen (quicker). When there were pitches up, I thought we did a great job of hitting balls hard. And we battled when we were behind in the count.
"Nothing was easy for their pitchers today."
AT THE PLATE
The top four hitters in the Illini batting order combined to go 8 for 16 with five runs and four RBI. Thomas Lindauer, Willie Argo, Justin Parr and Brandon Hohl each went 2 for 4. Add in walks by Lindauer and Argo and the foursome reached base 10 times in 18 plate appearances.
ON THE MOUND
Illini right-hander John Kravetz accomplished what no pitching staff had been able to do this season — prevent Hoosier hitting phenom Sam Travis from reaching base. The Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Week went 0 for 4, all against Kravetz. Travis, who had reached base in each of Indiana’s previous 30 games, also had his hitting streak stopped at 17 games.
IN THE FIELD
Illinois — which entered the weekend leading the Big Ten in double plays and ranked seventh in the nation in double plays per game — turned three more. The Illini now have 36 twin killings, 14 more than their opponents.
RING ‘EM UP
It didn’t keep the Illini from winning, but UI batters struck out looking six times. Of Illinois’ 17 strikeouts in the first two games of the series, eight were on called third strikes.
Illini projected starter Josh Ferry (2-1, 6.04 ERA) will look for his first Big Ten win in the series finale at 1:05 p.m. Sunday. The freshman right-hander is 0-1 with a 12.60 ERA in his lone conference appearance. In his last start, Ferry earned the win against Mississippi Valley State, allowing four runs (three earned) in five innings.