Fullerton Regional: Fullerton 10, Illinois 4
FULLERTON, Calif. -- Not too many players can toe the rubber and be their team's No. 3 hitter on the same night. Tyler Pill proved why he's one of the best two-way players in the country Friday, leading top-seeded Cal State Fullerton to a 10-4 win over fourth-seeded Illinois in the Fullerton Regional at Goodwin Field.
Pill did it with his arm, giving up four runs on five hits and striking out 11 in eight innings. He did it with his bat, delivering the go-ahead two-run single in the sixth. Heading into Friday, Pill was 23-for-56 (.411) in his career on days when he hit for himself and pitched. The draft-eligible junior received a standing ovation as he ran off the mound in the eighth.
"I just concentrate on pitching," Pill said. "And when I'm up there hitting, I just try to get a good hack on the ball. It just works out."
Fullerton (41-15), which improved to 23-4 at home this year, will play second-seeded Stanford at 11 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Cardinal (33-20) beat Kansas State, 10-3, in the earlier game. Illinois and Kansas State will play an elimination game at 7 p.m. ET. Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano had the luxury of starting Pill -- a "Saturday guy" with Friday ability -- and saving staff ace Noe Ramirez (8-3, 1.74) for Game 2. Ramirez is scheduled to take the mound Saturday.
The Titans started off slow but scored in each of the last five innings. Four different Fullerton players registered double-digit hits.
"The game was simple," said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb, whose team fell to 28-26. "We got outplayed in every aspect."
Things look promising for the Illini after Pill hung a curve to first baseman Matt Dittman in the second. Dittman cashed it in, launching a monster two-run shot to right that put the Big Ten Tournament champions up 2-0. Fullerton battled back on Ivory Thomas' game-tying two-out, two-run single in the fourth and Carlos Lopez and Greg Velazquez each drove in runs with two-out hits in the fifth.
"It was the two-out rally -- that was the theme of the night," Serrano said.
Pill's second and final pitching mistake came to Casey McMurray, who singled in the tying runs in the sixth. He escaped further damage on center fielder Michael Lorenzen's running catch in the gap. Pill would get redemption in the bottom half of the frame on a blooper into left field, made possible by Richy Pedroza's two-strike sacrifice bunt that moved a pair of runners into scoring position.
"I stayed back on the pitch and it fell in," Pill said.
Blair Angulo writes for ESPNLosAngeles.com.