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Illini Baseball heading towards homestretch of 2013 season

The Big Ten Baseball regular season is rapidly closing. There are only two weekend series left for the Fighting Illini. With only one win against Michigan State last weekend, it puts added pressure on the good guys to perform in the last six games. They’ll need to do well so they can make an appearance to the Big Ten Tournament, which starts May 22.

Fortunately, Illinois will get a chance to rack up some wins this weekend. They’ll be hosting last place Penn State here at Illinois Field for their last home series.

Weekend wrap up

The Illini traveled to East Lansing to play against the Michigan State Spartans this past weekend in a key series. The Spartans were just one spot above the Illinois in the Big Ten standings and a couple of wins would have put Illinois in a good position going into the final two series.

On Friday afternoon, Kevin Johnson had his turn on the mound after a weekend off. Rumor had it he had some shoulder tightness. Judging from his performance on Friday, he may not yet be 100%. Johnson lasted for just one inning and gave up six runs, very atypical for the normally stingy starter. Illinois never recovered from that and lost to the Spartans 123. According to Coach Hartleb, “This is the worst we’ve pitched all year,” regarding Friday’s game, which was the biggest defeat of the year.

The Illini got their revenge on Saturday, though. With a four-run eighth inning, they broke open a 3–3 tie to win 73. Davis Hendrickson placed a key rbi double to help the offense while Michael Hurwitz added some insurance with a two-run single. Ronnie Muck (pictured above, right) continues to shine as he pitched four shutout innings for his third win of the year.

Illinois couldn’t pull off a win for the rubber game on Sunday. It was close though. They had a 3–1 lead as late as the eighth inning, but a three-run homer by the Spartans off Bryan Roberts broke the hearts of Illini fans and Illinois lost 43. Thomas Lindauer managed to bop a dinger in the game, his tenth of the year.

No doubt, it was a very tough series to lose. The last game was especially hard, given how important every game is at this stage of the season.

Parr breaks 2013 hit streak mark

Illinois outfielder Justin Parr (pictured above) just continues to hit and break records. Against Northwestern two weekends ago, he surpassed the all-time team record for consecutive games with a hit. He didn’t stop there. This past weekend against Michigan State, he hit safely in all three games to extend his streak to 31 games. That is now the highest hit streak in NCAA baseball in 2013.

The amazing part was that Parr started the 2013 season with a ten game hit streak before going hitless in two games. That was before his current streak started.

If that wasn’t enough, Parr is now leading all NCAA Division I players with a .434 batting average. He passed University of Delaware’s Jimmy Yezzo this past weekend.

Stat of the Week

Illinois ranks first or second in 11 of the 13 offensive statistical categories in the Big Ten (I’m not counting strikeouts well, because). Which ones do they NOT rank that high? They are third in doubles and fourth in triples. It should be noted that Indiana ranks first in nine of those categories. Illinois does lead the Big Ten in walks (thank you Michael Hurwitz!) and stolen bases.

Tale of three divisions

Take a look at the current conference standings. By this point in the Big Ten season, it seems that the conference has been divided into three divisions. With two weekends left for most teams, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio State, and Nebraska seemed to have a lock on an automatic Tournament bid. On the other end of the spectrum, there are another four teams in Northwestern Iowa, Purdue, and hapless Penn State who, barring a miracle, all have played themselves out of contention.

Who’s left? There are three teams that are fighting for two remaining postseason spots:

Team                  W     L      PCT

Michigan State    9     6      .600

Michigan           10    8       .556

Illinois                9     9       .500

Michigan State is helped tremendously by their remaining schedule. To finish out the season, they play Iowa and Penn State, who have a combined 8–26 conference record. Illinois also plays last place Penn State, but also finishes out 2013 against first place Minnesota at their place. Take heart, Illini fans! The Golden Gophers managed to lose against Penn State, so even they are not unbeatable.

Anything can happen in College baseball so time will tell what transpires. However unlikely, Nebraska (12–6) could completely fall apart, or Northwestern (8–13) could go on a tear. It will be a wild last two weeks in the Big Ten, that much is certain.

Next Up

Touching on more immediate matters, the Illini will be taking on Penn State this weekend. This will be the last home series, so if you’ve been waiting for the right game to attend, this is your last chance!

After eight years of covering the Illini baseball team, I know better than to say that any matchup is a sure thing. That is reinforced by the Nits’ win over Minnesota last Sunday. That said, this weekend’s series against Penn State (12–30, 3–15 Big Ten) is a good chance for Illinois to get some wins before heading north next weekend.

Game time is 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. Sunday is Senior Day and will have an early start at 11 a.m.

Go Illini!

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