GREENVILLE, N.C. - On Thursday evening at Clark-LeClair Stadium, Illinois (1-3) dropped its opening game of the 2013 Keith LeClair Classic by a score of 8-2 to host East Carolina (1-3). The Illini scored first but allowed eight runs over the final five innings and suffered their third-straight loss.
"We had a combination of things happen today," head coach Dan Hartleb said. "Kevin threw well early, but when it got late, he started to elevate pitches and got into some trouble. We gave up a big inning, so we've got to knock out those to keep games close."
Illinois scored in the first inning for the second time this season, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by redshirt-junior Jordan Parr. Senior Davis Hendrickson led off the game with a walk and stole second before racing home on the Parr grounder through the right side and sliding around the ECU catcher to beat the tag.
Senior Kevin Johnson began the game with three scoreless innings but gave up a two-run home run to ECU third baseman Zach Houchins with two outs in the bottom of the fourth. Two innings later, the Pirates put up four runs to knock the Midlothian, Ill., native out of the game and pin him with his first loss of the year.
An RBI ground-rule double started the ECU big inning in the sixth, as they took advantage of a leadoff double. After two walks with two outs, the Pirates scored another run on a bases-loaded wild pitch and added two more on a two-run single through the right side to take a 6-1 lead. Redshirt-sophomore Rob McDonnell came on in relief for Johnson and got the final out of the frame.
Johnson struck out six over 5.2 innings and increased his career strikeout total to 176, which ranks 10th in school history. He becomes the first Illini to crack the top-10 list since 2002 when current Illini pitching coach Drew Dickinson finished his career third overall with 264 punch-outs. Brett Weber is the all-time leader with 292 strikeouts.
Redshirt-freshman Charlie Naso took over in the bottom of the seventh and allowed two runs in his first career appearance, as the Illini fell behind 8-1. Fellow redshirt-freshman Andrew Mamlic then entered his first game as an Illini and induced a groundout to finish the inning. Mamlic stayed in to wrap up the game by tossing a perfect eighth inning.
"I was very happy with what Andrew did today," Hartleb said. "We put him in a very tough situation with the bases loaded, and he found a way to get out of a jam for us. He then went right at hitters to get out of the next inning. He threw strikes and competed, so I thought he did a very nice job for his first time out."
The Illini loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the ninth and scored their second run on a wild pitch. The Orange and Blue couldn't keep the rally going, as a groundout to first ended the game. Illinois totaled eight hits on the evening, but struck out 11 times.
"From an offensive standpoint, we struck out too much and didn't put the ball in play nearly enough," Hartleb said. "We did the same thing last weekend, so that is something we need to do a much better job of."
Due to potential inclement weather in the area this weekend, Illinois is now slated to play Ohio at 9 a.m. CT on Friday morning. The contest between the Illini and Bobcats was originally scheduled for noon CT. The rest of the 2013 Keith LeClair Classic schedule will be revised based on potential weather forecasts. Illini fans should stay tuned to www.fightingillini.com and follow @IlliniBaseball on Twitter for daily updates.
"We need to get a good pitching performance tomorrow and be more consistent at the plate," Hartleb said. "We need to swing at balls in the zone and hit the ball where it's pitched."
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