Illinois falls 9-3 to Indiana in series opener at home

When Casey Fletcher’s bat smashed a pitch deep into right field in the sixth inning, he thought the wind just might carry it out of the park.

Two innings earlier, with the sun up and the wind blowing, he might have been right. But as was the theme of Illinois’ 9-3 series-opening loss to Indiana, the timing was off.

The Big Ten-leading Hoosiers scored nine runs on 13 hits, while the Illini mustered just three runs in 12 hits.

“We were very aggressive, I thought we swung the bats well,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “But with runners in scoring positions, I thought we were tentative, and you can’t be.”

Fletcher getting snubbed from a three-run homer was hardly the biggest letdown for the Illini on Friday night, though.

Starting pitcher Drasen Johnson, who had allowed zero runs and just eight hits in his last 15 innings, gave up nine hits to 25 Indiana batters, including two doubles and two triples.

Johnson allowed seven earned runs, a season high, while his two strikeouts was his second-lowest count in 10 starts this year.

“He usually has great movement,” Hartleb said. “He did on a few pitches, but other than that I thought he was straight and flat.”

Indiana started the second inning with two singles and a groundout that put both runners in scoring position. Another groundout scored the first run and gave the Hoosiers a lead they would never surrender.

Three more runs in the third and another two in the fourth extended the Hoosiers’ lead to 6-0 before the Illini finally fought back in the bottom of the inning.

Ryan Nagle singled to start the frame before Jason Goldstein popped up for the first out.

Reid Roper restored some life in the Illini offense with a two-run homer, while David Kerian doubled three pitches later to put the Illini once again in scoring position.

A sacrifice fly to center field scored Kerian, but offensive success for Illinois ended with the fourth inning.

“We just didn’t get many hits with guys in scoring positions, and I think that was the difference,” said Roper, recording his only hit of the night with his home run.

Indiana tacked on an insurance run in each the fifth, prompting an Illini pitching change to start the sixth; however, three Illini relievers struck out just two batters between them, allowing another two runs on four hits.

“They were very patient,” Hartleb said. “They worked it at an even or full count, and then put good swings on the ball.”

The Illini left eight runners on base in the loss, twice as many as the Hoosiers.

Friday night’s loss — and Nebraska’s win — dropped Illinois into a tie with the Huskers for second place in the Big Ten at 9-4, while the win put Indiana three games ahead in first place at 12-1.

With two games left in the series, though, the Illini can’t let one night of poor play affect them if they hope to make a series push at a conference title.

“We want to make a statement, to let everyone in the Big Ten know we’re a contender,” Fletcher said. “We’ll get them tomorrow.”

J.J. can be reached at [email protected] and @Wilsonable07.