Things are looking up for the Illini baseball team these days. Not only did Illinois (23–10, 5–4 Big Ten) sweep conference opponent Purdue, extending their Big Ten win streak to four games, but outfielder Justin Parr (right) is on a NCAA-high 21-game hitting streak, and for his effort, he has been named Big Ten Player of the Week. To top it off, the Illini have just won their fourth straight game against Illinois State on Tuesday in grand fashion, 17–6.
The Illini hope to continue their success against Big Ten teams this weekend in Columbus as they take on the Ohio State Buckeyes (23–11, 7–5 Big Ten).
The series last weekend against Purdue was important. No doubt, Illinois has a good a team, having played two of the best conference teams. Their Big Ten record of 2–4 didn’t show it. A good showing against the Boilermakers (good young prospects, but suspect pitching) would really help.
Friday’s game started pretty ominously with normally reliable Kevin Johnson giving up four runs in top of the first. The Illini offense took the pressure off KJ by scoring eight in the bottom of that inning. One of those runs, by the way, was a Thomas Lindauer solo home run. That’s seven on the year for him. Michael Hurwitz accounted for three more with a bases-loaded double.
With the pressure off, Johnson settled down and gave up just one more run in his five innings. Meanwhile, the Illini offense was just getting started. They scored nine more runs, thanks in part to a homer by Reid Roper (left) — his first of the year — and David Kerian, who drove in six runs. Purdue did put together a rally for seven runs in the eighth inning, but it was too late for them, and Illinois won the first game, 17–12.
Saturday’s game was slightly more subdued in terms of runs, but nevertheless still just as exciting. Purdue again got off to a lead, this time a 2–0 in the second. Jason Goldstein’s two-run double tied it, and a batter later he scored on a sac fly. Purdue chipped away at Illinois pitching, and by the bottom of the eighth, it was 4–3 Purdue. A David Kerian base hit tied the game, and once again it was Reid Roper with the long ball. His two-run homer scored the winning run while Bryan Roberts came in to for his third save. Kevin Duchene got the win for his fifth of the year, winning 6–4.
Sunday was Fighting Illini’s big promotion of the year, Bleacher Bum Barbeque. The official attendance was 2,574. It was, by far, the biggest crowd this year. The best part was that Illinois delivered a win.
Ryan Castellanos (right) got the start for the Orange and Blue. He won his first start against Indiana the week befor,e giving them their first conference loss of the year. On Sunday, he got plenty of support from the Illini offense. Reid Roper contributed his third homerun in three days, while Justin Parr hit for cycle and drove home four runs. Illinois again scored seventeen runs, but it wasn’t near as close as Friday. Final score: Illinois 17, Purdue 6.
Against Illinois State, the Illinois offense exploded for double digits for the third time in four games. While starter Kevin Duchene upped his record to 6–1, every starter in the lineup got a hit. Brandon Hohl drove in three runs for the good guys, and Justin Parr collected two hits to extend his hitting streak to 21 games. Illinois won 12–1.
Justin Parr recognized by the Big Ten
I had given up on hoping that at one point, the Big Ten would recognize an Illini player for a weekly award. It would happen when it happened. But this weekend, I did mention on Illinois Baseball Report, that, really, they couldn’t pass up this chance. Illinois had swept a legitimate Big Ten team. They had plenty of logical choices; there was Reid Roper with his three homers, David Kerian, and of course Justin Parr.
They picked the right one. Parr was eventually chosen as the Big Ten player of the Week. Yes, Parr was 8 for 17 with six rbis for the week. Yes, he has an NCAA-high 21-game hitting streak, and yes, he hit for the cycle. Those are all good reasons to honor him, but quite frankly, Parr is the heart of our team. He does it quietly and without fanfare, but I can’t imagine where this team would be without him in the lineup. Of the 32 games that Illinois has played, he has not gotten a hit in only two of them. He currently leads the conference in hitting and total bases, and is second in rbis.
Congrats to Justin!
Stats to ponder
Indiana and Illinois are 1–2 in runs (237, 211) and homers (25, 24) in the Big Ten so far this season. Iowa currently has one home run as a team this season (sorry, Hawkeye fans).
I mentioned Thomas Lindauer’s home runs. His eight dingers now lead the Big Ten. To look at his lean form, you wouldn’t expect that from him. Despite his surge in power, Coach Hartleb still sees the value in leading him off.
Around the Big Ten
Illinois’ three wins against Purdue didn’t push them up in the Big Ten standings as much as you might think. What we are seeing, though, is a definite divide in those contending for the Big Ten Tournament and those staying home. Indiana, who won their first six conference games, was swept by Michigan State. The Spartans are showing they are a definite contender. They are now 5–4, and tied with Illinois for the coveted sixth place.
Michigan, who have long been a powerhouse in Big Ten baseball but in recent years fallen on hard times, have rebounded. They are now tied for first place with Minnesota with a 7–2 record.
Speaking of contenders, Illinois will be traveling to Columbus this coming weekend to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. This is the time of year where every weekend I say THIS is the biggest series of the season for the Illini. Remember last weekend against Purdue? That was the biggest series … until now. Now it’s this Buckeye series. Why? Because, Ohio State is just one notch ahead of Illinois in the standings at fifth place with a 7–5 record. Playing at Columbus is extra tough because of the fan factor. I’ve been to an Illinois-Ohio State game in Columbus, and the fans there take baseball very seriously. Keep your head in the game, guys!
Game time on Friday is 5:30 p.m. Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m., and on Sunday the game will be at 11 a.m.