Baseball team drops league opener
CHAMPAIGN — Tough luck.
That describes Drasen Johnson’s deserved-a-better-fate experience on the mound Friday afternoon at Illinois Field.
And it sums up the worst-case-scenario finish to a ninth-inning comeback attempt by the host team.
Bottom line: Johnson and Illinois each saw another loss go on their records as Purdue rallied to pull out a 4-3 baseball victory in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
“We had our opportunities,” Illini associate head coach Eric Snider said, “and you either get your job done or you don’t. And we didn’t get our job done.”
Johnson (2-4) nursed a 2-1 lead into the eighth inning, having limited Purdue to four hits and no earned runs to that point. But with Boilermakers counterpart Jordan Minch (1-4) nearly as good, the Illini junior right-hander operated with little margin for error.
After retiring the first batter in the eighth, Johnson allowed back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners.
“I wasn’t tired,” he said. “I left a couple balls up. They put good swings on it, so credit to them.”
When Cam Strong followed with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt, the tying run scored and Johnson’s day was done. But Purdue’s rally wasn’t.
Brandon Krieg later delivered a two-out, two-run double off reliever Tyler Jay, putting Illinois in a 4-2 hole.
The Illini (12-11) nearly dug out of it, loading the bases with no outs in the ninth against Minch and two relievers.
Will Krug followed with an RBI single to center, but Snider — coaching at third — decided not to risk waving Ryne Roper home from second with what would have been the tying run.
“He didn’t get a very good jump, (and) the ball was a liner,” Snider said. “No, there’s no way. (Not with) nobody out.”
As it turned out, Roper never made it beyond third. Michael Hurwitz followed with a liner snared by shortstop Krieg for the first out. Then Ryan Nagle, who had driven in the Illini’s first run for his team-leading 20th RBI of the season, came to the plate. Just the guy Snider wanted to see in that situation.
“Ryan Nagle’s one of our better hitters, and I’d take him up to bat any time,” he said.
This time, however, the sophomore left fielder grounded sharply back to the mound, where Mike Lutz fielded the ball and threw home to start a game-ending double play.
With that, Illinois’ four-game winning streak ended, while Purdue (5-16) won for the fourth time in six games.
“We shouldn’t be in that position at the end, I feel,” Krug said. “We could have put more runs on the board and done other things defensively to not be in that position in the first place. There shouldn’t have been a bottom of the ninth.
“But we played hard all the way to the end. Almost had it, just came up short.”
AT THE PLATE
Illini shortstop Adam Walton remained on a roll, going 3 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to five games. The sophomore is hitting .588 (10 for 17) during the streak.
ON THE MOUND
Sophomore right-hander Mike Lutz recorded the first save of his college career in his 38th all-time appearance out of the bullpen for Purdue.
BEHIND THE PLATE
Illinois sophomore Jason Goldstein twice was called for catcher’s interference, each time with Cody Strong at the plate, for his second and third errors of the season.
ON THE BASES
Illini center fielder Will Krug, who entered the day second in the Big Ten in stolen bases, recorded his 13th steal of the season in the first inning. He later scored.
The three-game series continues Saturday at 3 p.m., with Ryan Castellanos (2-1, 4.00 ERA) scheduled to start for Illinois against fellow sophomore right-hander Gavin Downs (2-1, 4.00). Castellanos has yet to issue a walk in 18 innings this year.