Oklahoma State tried to rally in the late innings against Illinois Friday at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, but the 10th-ranked Cowboys' comeback bid fell short in a 6-2 loss in the series opener.
The Cowboys managed just five hits in the contest as they fell to 7-5 on the season, while Illinois improved to 10-2-1.
OSU brought the tying run to the plate in both the seventh and eighth innings but could not push across more than a single run in those frames.
Illinois starter Kevin Duchene earned the win as the southpaw worked seven innings and allowed just one run on three hits while striking out six. The Cowboys did not manage their first hit off the junior until a two-out single by Tim Arakawa in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“(Duchene) was very good; he moved the ball around quite well and mixed his pitches — he's a very skilled pitcher and we weren't as competitive against him as we needed to be,” said OSU head coach Josh Holliday. “But sometimes you've got to tip your cap to the other team.
“We had a little bit better luck against their bullpen and got some opportunities there. We were close, and one big swing of the bat could have turned that game. But again, credit to them making the pitches when they had to.”
The Fighting Illini took an early lead in the contest off OSU starter Blake Battenfield, who surrendered a two-run home run to Adam Walton in the top of the third to give the visitors a lead they would never relinquish.
Illinois doubled its lead in the fifth, and once again it was Walton doing damage as his RBI triple made it 3-0 before a Ryan Nagle single brought home the Fighting Illini's fourth run.
The Cowboys finally broke up the shutout in the seventh. After a one-out single by Conor Costello put runners on the corners with one out, Jon Littell plated OSU's first run with a sacrifice fly.
Illinois tallied its fifth run in the top of the eighth, but in the bottom of the inning, the Cowboys positioned themselves to erase the deficit.
Andrew Mamlic came out of the Illini bullpen to open the eighth and promptly struck out the first batter he faced but quickly walked the next two. The visitors then brought on closer Tyler Jay, who issued a walk to pinch-hitter Andrew Rosa to load the bases with one out.
Up next, Gage Green delivered a sacrifice fly to make the score 5-2, but Kevin Bradley followed with a strikeout to end the OSU threat.
Illinois tacked on an unearned run in the ninth to seal the win.
Battenfield suffered his first-career loss on the mound as the sophomore righty allowed four runs on six hits in five innings of work to fall to 0-1 on the year.
Offensively, Costello's two hits led the Cowboys, while Arakawa, Green and David Petrino collected OSU's other three hits.
The two teams return to action Saturday at 3 p.m.