NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Illinois held off a late rally by Georgia Tech and the Yellow Jackets brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth inning but could not complete the comeback as the Illini won the opener of the NCAA Nashville Regional, 6-4, Friday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
Daniel Palka was 3-for-5 with a triple, an RBI, scored twice and also pitched 1 innings of scoreless relief for the second-seeded Jackets, who slipped to the losers' bracket in the Nashville Regional. Tech faces the loser of Friday night's Vanderbilt/East Tennessee State game in an elimination game at 3 p.m. today.
"I really want to credit Illinois," said head coach Danny Hall. "Offensively, I thought we hit some balls awfully hard, but right at them. We just couldn't quite get that two-out hit. They really just limited us to one run at a time. I thought we did a good job of getting back into the game, but couldn't quite crack the code."
The Jackets, trying to stage another ninth-inning comeback, saw Thomas Smith draw a lead-off walk in the bottom of the ninth. Kyle Wren pounded a fly ball that was caught in deep right and Brandon Thomas flew out to left. With two outs, Zane Evans drew a walk and Palka stepped to the plate as the potential winning run.
Palka rifled an offering that was stabbed at first by David Kerian for the final out, saving the game for UI closer Bryan Roberts and putting Illini freshman Kevin Duchene in line for the win.
Duchene pitched seven innings, allowing eight hits and three runs with five strikeouts to improve to 9-1, while Roberts dodged the pair of walks in the ninth to shore up his eighth save.
"He was throwing fastball, slider and a couple change-ups," said Tech senior 3B Sam Dove of Illinois' starting pitcher. "He was locating his fastball down in the zone and did a good job of moving it in and out (of the strike zone). Give him a credit because he did a good job of keeping us off balance."
After Illinois jumped out to a 4-0 in the sixth, Palka kick-started the Jackets by going the other way and bouncing an RBI triple off the Green Monster in left that scored Evans, whose two-out walk kept the sixth alive. In the next at bat, Dove sailed a three-bagger over the head of center fielder Justin Parr to plate Palka cut the margin to 4-2.
Tech kept its foot on the gas in the seventh and Smith, who finished the game 2-for-3, launched his third home run this season. The sophomore's solo shot that caromed off the scoreboard above the Monster in left brought Tech within a run.
The Jackets would get no closer.
"I felt like we were chipping away for sure and we got within one run," said Hall. "You really need your pitcher to put a zero up in that situation, but we couldn't do it. I thought we were really close and sometimes the difference between winning and losing is inches on a pitch or inches on a play and it just didn't go our way today."
A pair of singles off Tech reliever Alex Cruz led off the eighth inning for Illinois and Goldstein's sac bunt moved both into scoring position. Thomas Lindauer's RBI single made it 5-3 and two batters later, Justin Parr's two-out RBI single to right added insurance.
Parr finished the game 2-for-5, and his twin brother Jordan hit a pair of home runs and was 3-for-5. Jordan's two-run blast to left broke the scoreless tie in the fourth, and a two-out RBI single from Davis Hendrickson made it 3-0 that inning. Parr homered again to left in the sixth for a 4-0 lead.
"The two home runs hurt us early because it got them out to a big lead," said Hall. "The Parr brothers definitely did some damage."
Tech had base hits in each of the first four innings off Duchene, but the rookie was up to the task, as was his freshman catcher Goldstein. Kyle Wren was wiped out trying to swipe third in the first inning, after leading off the game with a bunt single and stealing second (his 27th). Smith was gunned down on a steal attempt in the third.
Dusty Isaacs was on the hook for the loss (4-8), going 5 innings with five hits and four runs. Cole Pitts tossed 1 hitless innings of relief, Cruz recorded just one out and allowed three hits and two runs, while Palka pitched the final 1 scoreless for the Jackets.