Tigers Drop Season Opener, 5-2, to Illinois State at FedExPark
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Memphis (0-1) had 10 hits, but all singles in a 5-2 opening day loss to Illinois State (1-0) on Friday at FedExPark.
Head Coach Daron Schoenrock penned an opening day lineup that featured two players making their first career starts and as a whole, a lineup that averaged 31 career starts. The young lineup came through in the first inning as three-straight singles, two infield singles, brought redshirt-junior transfer Drew Griffin to the plate with the bases full. Griffin grounded out to second, but Zach Willis scored handing Memphis the 1-0 lead after one inning.
After two innings with two strikeouts in each, Tigers starter Sam Moll faced a jam in the third. Moll hit the first batter with a pitch and a bunt single put two Redbirds on base with nobody out. The Memphis southpaw recorded his fifth strikeout and a fly out put two outs on the board. One strike away from escaping any damage, Eric Aguilera ripped a single to right to score the runner from second. With runners on first and third with two outs, Moll forced a groundout to third to escape the inning.
The Tigers regained the lead in the bottom of the inning with the help of a Redbird error. Willis recorded his second hit of the afternoon to lead off the inning and stole second. With one out in the inning, Bryce Beeler sent a line drive to center field and the Redbird centerfielder initially broke in, and then backtracked. The ball deflected off his glove resulting in Willis scoring the unearned run for a 2-1 Memphis lead.
Moll walked the first two batters in the fourth and a wild pitch moved both Redbird runners to scoring position with nobody out. The junior pitcher again worked out of a jam with two strikeouts and a groundout to keep the Tigers in the lead, 2-1.
Illinois State broke through in the fifth as three straight singles brought the tying run in. Aguilera drove in his second run of the day to tie the game and force the Tigers to go to the bullpen. The U of M elected to go to freshman Craig Caufield and he struck out the first batter he faced, but Mike Hollenback singled up the middle to give Illinois State the lead, 3-2. Caufield walked the next batter, but a strikeout and a foul out got Memphis out of the inning.
Moll finished the day with four innings pitched, and allowed three runs, all earned, on five hits. He walked four and struck out seven, the most strikeouts by a Tiger pitcher on opening day since Stephen Gostkowski struck out nine against Air Force in 2005.
After Conner Porter had three scoreless innings of relief, Illinois State banged out five hits and scored two runs to gain the 5-2 lead to the bottom of the ninth. Chris Razo gave up a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth, but retired the next three batters for the save.
Brad Sorkin pitched six innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on 10 hits to earn the win. The Tigers failed to get a hit against the Redbirds bullpen as Razo and Headen pitched three innings and allowed just one baserunner.
Keaton Aldridge and Willis paced the Tiger offense with two hits apiece. Willis was 2-for-5 and scored both Tiger runs while Aldridge was 2-for-3 with a walk.
The Tigers look to even the series on Saturday with game two of the series slated for 2 p.m.
Game Notes - 3B Drew Griffin and LF Austin Hatfield each made their first career start in Friday's game. Overall, Memphis' lineup averaged 31 starts ... Ethan Gross made his 100th career start and his 93rd consecutive ... Craig Caufield and Conner Porter made their NCAA Division I debuts in the game. Caufield redshirted last year while Porter is a junior college transfer ... Sam Moll struck out seven in four innings, the most strikeouts by a Tiger starter on opening day since Stephen Gostkowski fanned nine against Air Force in 2005 ... Memphis loses its season opener for the second-straight season and third time in last four seasons.