Last weekend, Illinois Baseball only managed one win against conference rivals Michigan State. As the season winds down with only six games left, every game counts with the Orange and Blue right at .500. Let’s first take a quick look at the Michigan State series…
Friday starter Kevin Johnson had an atypically off night. Johnson, who was 7-3 going into the weekend, ran into trouble with Michigan State hitters in the fourth inning when they scored four runs. He wasn’t helped by Illinois fielders as three errors contributed to the MSU cause. The next inning wasn’t any better as the Spartans plated four more. By then, Josh Ferry came in to relieve, but MSU continued the onslaught. In all, the Spartans scored 13 runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings and added two more to win 15–8. I do give the Illini credit for giving the fans something to cheer about in the bottom of the ninth, though. Down 15–4, they scored four runs and had the bases loaded before succumbing in the end.
A side note: crowd of 2,499 showed up for Bleacher Bum BBQ on Friday night, an Illinois Field record for the season. It was great to see the stadium packed!
On Saturday, though, it seemed to be a totally different game unfortunately; the ultimate result was the same. Jordan Parr started the good guys off on the right foot with a three-run home run in the first inning. Illini starter John Kravetz gave it all back and more by giving up five Spartan runs the next inning. But here’s the thing … for the next five innings, Kravetz managed to keep Michigan State scoreless allowing only two hits. That was enough for the Illini offense to get in gear and catch up. Cleanup hitter Brandon Hohl singled in two runs in the fifth inning to tie the game, 5–5. And that’s how it stayed for five innings. Matt Milroy (pictured above) came in to relieve Kravetz in the eighth, and looking at his linescore, you can’t argue with his performance. Milroy no-hit the Spartans in three innings and struck out four batters. But alas, an unearned run in the top of the tenth was the deciding run and MSU won 6–5.
Sunday’s game was a back and forth contest between the Spartans and the Illini until the fourth, when Illinois scored three runs. Illinois capitalized on a hit batter and a wild pitch when Willie Argo capped the inning with an RBI double. That made it 5–2 Illinois. The Fighting Illini came through with two more runs to seal it in the seventh. With the score 8–6, reliever Ronnie Muck got the win, his first of 2012, and closer Reid Roper got the save, also his first.
A look at the Big Ten Standings
So where does that put Illinois after a 1-2 weekend with only two series left? Illinois is 9-9 and tied for seventh place with Nebraska. For those not familiar with Big Ten Baseball rules, only the top six teams in the Big Ten standings can get into the Big Ten Baseball Tournament. So the team has a bit of work to do. However, with six conference games left in the season, it’s anyone’s ballgame and anything can happen.
Ohio State is directly above Illinois in sixth place with a 11-10 record. In a three-way tie for third are Michigan State, Minnesota, and Penn State. The good news in all of this? There isn’t much of a threat from below Illinois in the standings. Ninth place Iowa (7-11) are two games behind Illinois.
Individual Achievements Worth Noting
While the Big Ten race is heating up, a couple of Illinois players have been recognized for their play. Thomas Lindauer has been placed on the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award watch list. Deservedly so, in my opinion as the Illini are the nation’s leader in double plays and Lindauer is a key reason why.
Also, Reid Roper has been named to the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award watch list. Roper has done well at both second base (offensively and defensively) and as a relief pitcher.
Good luck to both Thomas and Reid!!
There are only two series left on the Illinois Baseball regular season schedule. This coming weekend, the boys travel to Happy Valley to play the Penn State Nittany Lions. I know I said this last week (and I’ll say it next week, too), but this is a big series. Penn State is only one game above us in the standings, and between you and me, I think they’ve been playing above themselves this year. They’re due for a sweep. Illinois has a better overall record than they do (.553 to .511) and I think we’re the ones to bring the broom.
Game time on Friday is 5:05 p.m. for those who want to listen on the radio (WDWS-1400AM).
Good luck, Illini!!
You can read more of Thomas' writings on Illini baseball at Illinois Baseball Report.