UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – On the same day as the Illinois Marathon back in Champaign, No. 8 Illinois outlasted Penn State 4-2 in a 15-inning marathon in Happy Valley. The Illini extended the nation’s longest active winning streak and equaled the single-season school record with 16 consecutive wins. Illinois (35-6-1) boasts its best record in program history and sits in first place in the Big Ten at 12-1.
“I don’t even know what to say,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I really don’t know what to say, besides, wow. What a great college baseball game. I just told their head coach nobody deserved to lose that. Both starting pitchers were outstanding. There were some unbelievable plays made out there.”
The Fighting Illini earned their third 16-game winning streak in 136 years of Illinois Baseball, as the Orange and Blue also accomplished the feat in 1989 and 1959. It ranks as the second-longest winning streak in the NCAA this year behind Texas A&M (24).
Illinois began Big Ten play 12-1 for the second time in school history, with the only other time coming in 1911. UI also has won 11 consecutive conference games for the first time since 1982. The Illini clinched their eighth series victory this season and won their eighth consecutive game against Penn State.
Trailing 1-0 in the eighth, shortstop Adam Walton delivered the go-ahead two-run single that scored seniors David Kerian and Will Krug. Closer Tyler Jay allowed the tying run on an RBI single in the ninth that sent the game to extra innings tied 2-2.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the 15th, senior Casey Fletcher brought home junior Ryan Nagle as the winning run with an infield single. Redshirt-senior Reid Roper crossed home as an insurance run on a passed ball.
Junior Nick Blackburn (2-0) earned the win with two perfect innings in the 14th and 15th, including three strikeouts. Starter Drasen Johnson allowed an unearned run over seven innings, while Jay struck out a season-high seven in a career-high six innings. The Illini hurlers notched a season-high 14 strikeouts compared to just two walks.
Penn State grabbed its first lead of the series in the bottom of the first with a two-out RBI single. Johnson did not allow another run, posting six straight zeroes. He fanned four and walked one while throwing 85 pitches.
Jay took over in the eighth, beginning the longest outing of his career in which he totaled 99 pitches. He was charged with a run for just the second time in 21 appearances this year.
Illinois played its longest game under 10th-year coach Hartleb and improved to 4-1 in extra-inning games in 2015. It is believed to be the longest Illini game since a 16-inning contest against Minnesota on April 24, 1948.
Up Next: Due to travel arrangements, the series finale between the Illini and Nittany Lions on Sunday was moved up to a 9 a.m. CT start. It will be televised live on Big Ten Network.