A strong start by Penn State starting pitcher Tim Dunn went to waste on Friday night, as the Nittany Lions fell to Illinois 6-3 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“We did not play the game correctly today,” Penn State coach Rob Cooper said.
The team left 12 runners on base and committed two errors.
In the longest outing of his career, Dunn went 6 2/3 with five hits, two runs (none earned), five strikeouts and one walk en route to a no decision. Jack Anderson took the loss for the Nittany Lions, falling to 4-1 on the year.
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“I was just trying to get ahead with the fastball and let my defense work from there,” Dunn said.
“You’re seeing a guy who is really trusting himself, and I think he also appreciates the fact that we trust him,” Cooper said.
After a 1-2-3 inning to start the game by Dunn, Penn State jumped on Illini starter Drasen Johnson, scoring one run on three hits and a walk in the first to take an early 1-0 lead.
Dunn allowed his first hit in the third inning, a soft ground ball down the first base line by Illinois’ Michael Hurwitz, but Illinois failed to advance Hurwitz, as the next batter lined out to end the inning.
“My pitch count was pretty low throughout the first few innings so it didn’t feel like [my outing] was that long,” Dunn said.
The action picked up again in the home half of the fifth, when junior catcher Alex Farkes hit a double to right center field with no outs, his second extra base hit of the year. However, Farkes was stranded on base, as Johnson was able to battle out of the jam without any damage.
Dunn got into trouble in the top of the sixth, as Illinois got runners onto second and third with one out. Illini shortstop Adam Walton drove in Ryne Roper to level the score, 1-1. A single by Jason Goldstein drove in Will Krug to give the Illini a 2-1 lead.
Penn State responded in the bottom half of the inning, as Nittany Lion designated hitter Greg Guers scored after the Illini’s Reid Roper mishandled a ground ball by Penn State’s Zach Eli to tie the game 2-2.
The Nittany Lions took the lead in the home half of the seventh, as J.J. White drove Farkes in on a fielders’ choice to go ahead 3-2. However, Penn State left two men on base and failed to extend its lead.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, the floodgates opened in the top of the eighth inning. Illinois drove in four runs to take a 6-3 lead, one that it would not relinquish. Penn State loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but were unable to score.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard and I thought our energy was great,” Cooper said. “I thought we were extremely competitive. That’s extremely important to me.”
With the loss, Penn State falls to 17-17 on the season, and 5-4 in conference play. The loss was Penn State’s first at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this season.
The Nittany Lions will try to bounce back against the Illini Saturday afternoon, when the two teams will face off in the second game of the third game series. The game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.