Offense powers Johnson, Illini to victory

Offense powers Johnson, Illini to victory

CHAMPAIGN — Kevin Johnson will have to wait until his next start to become the all-time innings-pitched leader in Illinois baseball history.

Thanks to his teammates, however, the senior right-hander faced no delay Friday night in reaching career victory No. 19.

After Johnson yielded four runs to Purdue in the top of the first inning, Illini batters came to the aid of their ace with an eight-run rally in the bottom of the frame and continued to pound out the hits en route to a 17-12 Big Ten triumph at Illinois Field.

Johnson, a fixture in the Illini rotation since his freshman season, has seen this kind of help before.

“It’s like the games that I don’t pitch very well, the offense always has my back,” he said. “That’s reassuring.”

After giving up another run in the second, Johnson settled down, stringing together three scoreless innings. But after a 40-pitch first inning, his pitch total was already at 98 through five frames, and Illini coach Dan Hartleb decided that was plenty.

“Kevin at times will try to go out and do too much,” Hartleb said. “I thought he was overthrowing a little bit. ... It just snowballed on him that first inning and second inning, and then he was composed enough to get us through the fifth, which was important.”

The five-inning outing was Johnson’s shortest in nine starts this season and left him just short of setting a UI record for career innings pitched. He now has thrown 3272/3 — exactly one inning behind the mark held by Mark Dressen since 1992.

“That’s in the back of your head,” Johnson (5-2) said of the record, “but I don’t really think about that when I’m on the mound. I’m just trying to go out there and win games. There’ll be plenty more games to get it.”

There was no shortfall from an Illini offense that banged out a season-high 20 hits, including three home runs. Illinois’ run total was its second highest of the year.

“They were outstanding,” Hartleb said of his hitters. “The thing I was so impressed with is we give up a four-run (first) inning and we find a way to come up with eight. So nobody panicked. We showed some maturity there.”

Eight runs wouldn’t be enough on this night, but Illini hitters were up to the task. Illinois (20-10, 3-4 Big Ten) scored in six of the eight innings it batted.

A couple of sophomores were at the forefront of the UI attack.

First baseman David Kerian went 4 for 4 with a double, an inside-the-park home run and a career-high six RBI. Combined with two walks, Kerian reached base in all six of his plate appearances.

Designated hitter Michael Hurwitz also set a career high for RBI with four while going 4 for 5 with two doubles.

“Today, for some reason, the hitters just had the advantage,” Hurwitz said.

Junior shortstop Thomas Lindauer, who entered the season without a home run in his Illini career, belted his team-leading seventh to lead off the bottom of the first inning. It’s the most homers by an Illini since Matt Dittman finished the 2011 season with seven.

It took six plate appearances, but Illini senior Justin Parr extended his career-best hitting streak to 18 games. The center fielder singled in the eighth inning, finishing 1 for 5 with a walk.

With two steals, Illini sophomore David Kerian remained perfect for his college career in stolen-base attempts. The first baseman is 15 for 15 this season after going 1 for 1 as a freshman.

Illini right fielder Davis Hendrickson saved a run in the second with a strong throw to the plate that beat base runner Cody Strong. Strong dodged catcher Jason Goldstein’s first tag attempt but missed the plate and was tagged out as he backtracked toward home. It was Hendrickson’s fourth assist of the season.

Sophomore right-hander John Kravetz (3-1, 4.71 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Illini in Game 2 of the series at 3:05 p.m. today against senior right-hander Robert Ramer (2-2, 4.74). Purdue handed Kravetz one of his four career losses last season. In seven starts this year, Kravetz has allowed four extra-base hits in 42 innings. Entering the weekend, he ranked 10th in the Big Ten in opponent batting average (.232).

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