Well, the Illini were THIS close to making the Big Ten Baseball Tournament … down to the last inning of the last game, actually.
They won their first two games against the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Indiana did their part by sweeping the Ohio State Buckeyes this past weekend. But a season-ending loss against Gophers put Illinois in a three-way tie for sixth place and last tournament qualifying spot. Because of the logjam at sixth place, Big Ten rules states that the team with the best record against common Big Ten opponents goes on to Columbus. Ohio State had Illinois by one game. Frustrating perhaps to Illini baseball fans since Illinois indeed had the better head-to-head record against the two other teams defeating both by 2-1 marks.
So with an overall record of 28-25 and a slightly less impressive conference record of 11-13, Illinois says goodbye to the 2012 season. Meanwhile, Ohio State joins Purdue, Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan State in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament. Those wishing to follow the tournament should check out Big Ten Tournament Central.
On Thursday, the Illini got off to a quick 4-0 lead by the fourth inning but the Gophers got to starter Kevin Johnson scoring five runs in the fifth. A Thomas Lindauer rbi double tied the game in the bottom of the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, it was Lindauer again who led off with a base hit followed up with a Willie Argo walk. With no outs, Coach Hartleb called for the bunt and it reaped rewards. The Justin Parr sacrifice was successful and in the next at-bat, a wild pitch scored Lindauer. With Argo on third, a sacrifice squeeze was called and Jordan Parr bunted home the second run. Ronnie Muck pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings for the win and Reid Roper pitched a perfect ninth for the save. Final score 7-5.
Friday night, it was all John Kravetz. The freshman starter was going for his eighth win of the year and he didn’t disappoint. Kravetz pitched seven full innings spreading out six hits and no walks. Reid Roper came in for a scoreless ninth for his second save in as many days. Offensively, freshman Will Krug who was playing right field (presumably for the lefty-righty advantage), went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored. The three runs that Illinois scored would be all Kravetz would need as Illinois won 3-2.
Saturday, Illinois’ luck started to run out. Neither Drasen Johnson nor Matt Milroy who relieved him could contain Minnesota’s offense as they scored four runs off each pitcher. Thomas Shelton added some excitement for the home fans driving home two runs with a double in the eighth. That made the score 8-3 but it was too little too late. Coach Hartleb did give us some excitement though late in the game. In the bottom of the ninth when all was pretty much lost, he (and batter Will Krug) was thrown out of the game for arguing with the home plate umpire.
Big Ten Honors
The Big Ten announced their 2012 All-Big Ten teams and awards on Tuesday and a few Illini will have to make room on their mantle. Senior outfielder Willie Argo was placed on this year’s first team All-Big Ten team. Shortstop Thomas Lindauer and Justin Parr were both named to the third team All-Big Ten. Finally, Alex Lincoln was chosen as Illinois’ sportsman award honoree. Congrats to all four!
The Big Ten competition must be stiff among the Big Ten first basemen. I was a bit surprised not to see Jordan Parr’s name anywhere. He led (or tied) the Illini in batting, homeruns, rbis, doubles and hits. I also expected to see starter John Kravetz listed among the Freshman All-Big Ten team. Kravetz led the team with eight wins and was Freshman of the Week twice in 2012.
So what now for Illinois baseball players, coaches and fans now that the Illini baseball season is over? By now, underclassmen Illini players are most likely already on their way to their summer league assignments so they can hone their skills. Some of these players will be participating in leagues in Illinois and Wisconsin and other will be traveling far from home to places like Fayetteville, South Carolina. Keep an eye on fightingillini.com. They will soon be posting the team and league assignments so you can keep track of your favorite players during the summer.
As for the graduating seniors, let’s first take an opportunity to recognize them for all their work. They are Willie Argo, Will Strack, Thomas Shelton, Bill Charvat, Nick Chmielewski and Brian de la Torriente. Great job, guys! They will be getting on with their lives either on or off the field. If a major league team has been keeping tabs on them this year and might find them suitable for a minor league assignment, you might see their name come up during the MLB First-Year Player Draft (aka Rookie Draft) that takes place June 4-6. Keep in mind that 2012 juniors are also eligible for the draft as well and it’s possible the Illini might lose a player to the minors.
I’ll finish with a heartfelt thank you to the players and coaches for a job well done. The games were exciting and fun and you kept us in it till the very end. Good luck to the seniors in whatever life throws at you.
See you at the ballpark next year!