Illinois
Illinois pitcher Corey Kimes

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Junior left-hander Corey Kimes threw the first complete game of his career and senior first baseman Matt Dittman ripped a towering grand slam as top-seeded Illinois cruised to a 9-1 win against No. 2 seed Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament championship game at Huntington Park on Saturday. It is the Illini’s first Big Ten Tournament title and berth in the NCAA Tournament since 2000, and the first time in school history that Illinois has won both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles in the same season.

“I wasn’t sure I had a complete game in me, but I knew I was going to come out here and give it my best and do it for my teammates,” Kimes said. “My teammates are awesome, and I didn’t want to let them down.”

The Illini extend their winning streak to eight games and have won 11 of their last 13 games and 16 of their last 20. It is the fourth time in school history that Illinois has won the Big Ten Tournament, joining 2000, 1990 and 1989. Illinois scored more than six runs for the 13th time in its last 19 games and has had double-digit hits 12 times in the last 18 games.

“I’m extremely proud of this team,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Corey Kimes dominated all night and he handled the middle of their order very well. Adam Davis was a big part of that with the game he called and we were awesome defensively. We were fortunate to score early and give Corey a lead and he pitched well with it. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys.”

Kimes was phenomenal, hurling his first career complete game while allowing only one run on seven hits. He didn’t give up a walk or a hit batter and struck out a career-high seven, needing only 114 pitches. He retired 11 consecutive batters from the fifth through the eighth innings and threw 86 pitches for strikes (75 percent). And he threw a first-pitch strike to 25 of the 33 batters he faced (75.8 percent).

Kimes and Dittman were named to the All-Tournament team, along with center fielder Willie Argo, starting pitcher John Anderson, designated hitter Justin Parr and catcher Adam Davis, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

The Illini struck first with a run in the first inning. Parr smashed a one-out double to right-center on the first pitch he saw from MSU starter Chase Rihtarchik and Davis ripped a single through the left side to drive him in. Third baseman Brandon Hohl drew a walk but Rihtarchik struck out the next two Illini hitters to keep Illinois’ lead at 1-0.

MSU had a pair of runners on base with one out in the bottom of the first after two infield hits that didn’t get past the pitcher’s mound, but Kimes kept his composure and struck out the next two hitters to stifle the Spartans and hold the 1-0 lead.

Davis smashed a two-out opposite-field double in the third inning before Hohl and left fielder Casey McMurray drew consecutive walks to load the bases. MSU went to the bullpen for reliever Tim Simpson, who gave up a grand slam down the right-field line to Dittman that put the Illini up 5-0.

In the bottom of the third, Spartan center fielder Brandon Eckerle recorded a bunt hit, his second single that didn’t travel past the pitcher’s mound, but Kimes coaxed a fly-out to Argo and struck out Big Ten Player of the Year Jeff Holm on three pitches. Davis then caught Eckerle stealing second after Holm’s strikeout for an inning-ending double play.

Shortstop Josh Parr led off the fourth inning with a double off the third-base bag and came home after second baseman Pete Cappetta followed with another double down the left-field line. After back-to-back outs, Hohl smashed a triple to left-center, driving home Cappetta and staking Illinois to a 7-0 lead.

Kimes kept rolling in the fourth, striking out MSU third baseman Torsten Boss on three consecutive high fastballs, with the third one hitting 93 mph on the stadium radar gun. DH Jared Hook hit a laser up the middle that Parr gloved with a diving stop before throwing a strike to Dittman at first. Parr then gloved the next grounder and tossed it to first for the final out of the inning.

The Illini added a run in the fifth when Argo drew a one-out walk and moved to third on right fielder Davis Hendrickson’s single to right. Hendrickson stole second and Argo scored on Josh Parr’s base hit to right-center, pushing the margin to 8-0.

Michigan State got a run in the fifth after a leadoff double, a groundout to the right side and an RBI single to right to bring the Spartans within 8-1. But Kimes got Eckerle to bounce back to him for the second out and coaxed a fly-out to get out of the inning.

In the ninth, Hohl led off with a base hit up the middle and McMurray singled through the left side. After a fly-out, both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Argo was hit by a pitch to load the bases and MSU brought in pitcher Ryan Martin to face the left-handed hitting Hendrickson. He went to a 3-2 count before hitting Hendrickson to force in a run. But a new pitcher came in and induced a fly-out to right and a foul-out to first base to keep the Illini lead at 9-1.

Kimes came back out to attempt to finish off the complete game and gave up a leadoff hit to Holm. A pinch runner came on for him and he moved to second on a wild pitch. Kimes battled with Boss, who fouled off five pitches, before Kimes won it with a high fastball to strike out the Spartan cleanup hitter. Kimes then coaxed a pop-up to Dittman and recorded the final out with a foul-out to Dittman.

Every Illini batter had at least one hit, with Hohl leading the way with a 2-for-3 night in which he tripled, drove in a run, walked twice and scored twice. Argo was 2-for-3 with a walk, a steal and a run, and Davis went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run. Dittman went 1-for-5 with the grand slam home run and Josh Parr was 2-for-5 with a double, a steal, an RBI and a run.