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#16 Hoosiers await Illini in Bloomington

Adam Walton hurdles an Oakland baserunner.

It was a week full of wins for the Illinois Baseball team.  They won three of four against Oakland University on the weekend and defeated rival Missouri at the Battle at the Busch in St. Louis.  That gives them a formidable 18-7 overall record for the 2013 season. 

I’m wondering if the players will be looking forward to getting back to the Big Ten conference schedule.  Their conference record stayed the same at 1-2 and they are now tied with Michigan for seventh place in the Big Ten.  Then again, their opponent this coming weekend is #16 Indiana (22-3, 6-0) who have won 16 straight games (that’s currently the highest active winning streak in the NCAA, by the way).  No doubt, this will be the toughest weekend of the season. 

Weekend Wrap-up

Last weekend’s four game series against the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies was one of the strangest I’ve seen in a while. Each game seemed to have its own quirk or oddity… starting with Friday’s game with starter Kevin Jonson on the mound.   I got to the game an hour late thinking I would still have plenty of baseball action to see.  Turned out Johnson (4-1) had been pitching quite a game and it they were already done with six innings.  When all was said and done, KJ needed just 79 pitches to dispose of the Grizzlies 4-0 and the game took just 1 hour and 43 minutes, one of the shortest games in my memory.  

No one should have taken Friday’s game as any indication of how the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader would go.  Indeed, it was quite the opposite.  Instead of a short, pitching-rich contest, it was a duel where it almost seemed that an out was not to be made.  Helped out by some inadequate fielding and sub-par pitching by Oakland, Illinois scored 15 runs in the first three innings.  To their credit, Oakland made the game somewhat interesting by scoring five runs in the seventh inning and bringing the score to 16-8.  The Illini runs kept coming and the final score was a football-esque 21-8.  Three Illini batters hit homers, including Brandon Hohl who contributed a grand slam to the effort.  Those 21 runs, by the way, break the team record for the most runs in a single game under Coach Dan Hartleb. 

Pitching was dominant back again in Saturday’s Game 2.  Just ask Illini starter John Kravetz (3-0).  He kept a no-hitter alive until the eighth inning.  He did eventually did get into a spot of trouble that inning so senior Bryan Roberts came in relief and promptly got him out of the jam.  With the score 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run on second base, an Oakland batter rapped a base hit to left field and it seemed we were destined for extra innings.  Left fielder Will Krug had other ideas and he threw a strike to catcher Kelly Norris-Jones to get the potential tying run out at home to end the game (above).  Offensively, Thomas Lindauer hit his second home run of the day and his fourth of the year.

After winning three games in a row, the Illini had Oakland where they wanted them for the last contest on Sunday.  For one reason or another, everything finally jelled for the Grizzlies that afternoon and they came out the victor 6-3, winning their fourth game of the year. 

Braggin’ Rights at Busch

Illinois also won one their midweek game, their extra special Braggin’ Rights at Busch against rival Missouri on Tuesday night.  Illinois’ 6-2 win was the first time they’ve pulled off a win against the Tigers since 1988.  First baseman David Kerian was 2 for 4, and his two-run triple put Illinois ahead for good in the sixth inning.  Congrats Illinois for getting back the Braggin’ Rights!!

Stats of the Week

Remember back when Justin Parr started out the season so hot?  He hit safely in in his first ten games back then.  Well, he never really got cold.  After just two hitless games, he now has another thirteen game hit streak going.  For the season, he’s hitting a team leading .407 which is good for third in the Big Ten.  He may have found his power too, hitting his first home run against Oakland last weekend. 

Illinois now leads the Big Ten with 54 stolen bases.  Even better, they rank 10th in caught stealing with only 7.  First baseman David Kerian is the surprise leader on the team with 12 swipes (2nd in the Big Ten).  The Parr brothers are both in double digits; Justin has 11 and Jordan has 10. 

Around the Big Ten

Three Big Ten teams played their first conference series this past weekend and a couple of them made a splash.  Michigan State (15-8, 2-1) especially is showing they are to be taken seriously as they defeated tough Ohio State (16-8, 4-2) two games to one.  Minnesota (17-12, 2-1) also won two against Michigan (11-14, 1-2). 

Defending Big Ten champion Purdue (10-14, 3-3) finally decided to show up to the Big Ten table.  After getting decidedly whomped by the Buckeyes in Week 1 of conference play, they returned the favor against Penn State (5-18, 0-6) this past weekend, sweeping them all three games. 

But when it comes right down to it, the big team in the conference is Indiana no matter how you slice it.  Right now, they have an amazing 22-3 overall record and remain unbeaten in six conference games.  They have been ranked as high as #16 nationally.  They have the stats to back it up, too.   They’re ranked first in the conference in hitting with a .323 average (a full 23 points above next best Illinois).  They also sport the best ERA in the Big Ten with a 2.24 mark.   Here are the current standings and leaders in Big Ten Baseball

Next up

That conveniently brings me to this coming weekend.  Indiana is on the schedule for this coming weekend.  After starting out with a 1-2 weekend against Nebraska two weekends ago and then playing a non-conference series last weekend, the Illinois players are probably anxious to get back to the conference schedule.  Taking on the first place team, who’s ranked #16 in the nation AND playing at their place all might sound a little overwhelming.  However, I know this Illinois Baseball team and know that when there’s nothing to lose, there’s everything to gain.  I also know that anything can happen when it comes to college baseball and I’m hoping some good will come of this weekend. 

Illinois has a standard three-game schedule against the Hoosiers this weekend at Bart Kaufman Field.  Game times are Friday at 5pm, Saturday at 1pm and Sunday at noon.  If you can’t make it to Bloomington for the games, fire up GameTracker from the schedule page and follow along!

Go Illini!!

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