Kelly Norris-Jones ropes a double.
As I write this on Wednesday after work, the Illinois baseball players, coaches, and assorted support personnel are on their way down to St Louis. They arrive there to play the University of Missouri in the annual “Battle at Busch,” which is a relatively new annual tradition started three years ago. Yes, it’s only a non-conference midweek game, but it’s so much more than that. Playing at a Major League Baseball venue like Busch Stadium is such a big deal to the majority of these players who won’t play beyond their college years. The game is still important, but win or lose, being in that field, dugout and no doubt, the locker rooms, means so much to these guys.
When those of us who write about Illinois Baseball look back at the 2012 season for highlights and, dare I say it, “turning points,” last weekend’s series against the Indiana Hoosiers will most likely be at the top of the list. Exciting doesn’t even cover it. But the first game on Friday left the Orange and Blue faithful a little speechless. Indiana didn’t waste time scoring against Kevin Johnson, who has been Illinois’ most consistent starter in the past two years. Before Illinois even had a hit, Indiana had scored seven runs. That was only the third inning. Illinois managed to score three thanks in part to a 3 for 4 performance by Justin Parr. However, the writing was already on the wall for Friday, and the Hoosiers claimed victory, 12–3.
I don’t know what Coach Dan Hartleb or his staff said to his players between Friday’s game and Saturday’s, but whatever it was, it worked. On Saturday, we saw a different Illinois Baseball team out there. Starter John Kravetz, who already has two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards this year, pitched seven plus solid innings, allowing just three runs. The top of the Illini order seemed to have things quite in hand. Thomas Lindauer, Willie Argo, Justin Parr, and Brandon Hohl all went 2 for 4 for the day. Secondbaseman Reid Roper also chipped in with a 2 for 4 performance, including a triple. Illinois won 7–3 and Kravetz got his fifth win of the year. Give reliever Ronnie Muck some credit: he pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings and got his first save of 2012.
Sunday’s game against the Hoosiers can only be described as “one of those games.” Josh Ferry got the start for the good guys. After both teams scored five runs in the first two innings, pitcher Matt Milroy got the ball. In hindsight, Coach Hartleb has to like this move. Milroy was nothing short of masterful for the next five innings. He struck out 10 of the 21 Hoosier batters he faced, allowing just three hits.
Meanwhile, the Illini bats kept busy. Again, it was the top of the order that did the damage. Lindauer collected three hits and scored three times. Argo hit safely twice and scored twice. But it was Justin Parr who broke the game wide open with a two-out grand slam in the sixth inning. For the game, Parr had five RBI. Reid Roper continued his offensive effort by going 2 for 4 with two runs and an RBI. Not only that, he came in to pitch a perfect ninth inning.
The Hoosiers managed to score one more, but it was for naught as Illinois won the game 11–6 and took the series 2–1. Everything was right with the world again.
- The Illini baseball team had their share of awards this week. For his effort against Indiana on Sunday, Milroy (right) was named Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week. Not only that, Reid Roper was named Co-Freshman of the Week for both his offensive feats (.455) and his pitching on Sunday. This is the third time the Big Ten has honored an Illini with the Freshman of the Week award this year (Kravetz has the other two).
- The Illini plan to wear camouflage jerseys on May 6 as part of “Honor and Serve Day” to honor the student veterans and those who serve in the military. It doesn’t stop there. They plan to auction these jerseys off and the proceeds will go to support the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. There’s more info here if you’re interested.
Illinois — currently 18–12 (3–3 Big Ten) — has probably their toughest matchup of the conference season this coming weekend in Purdue. The Boilermakers had a wildly successful non-conference season and some wondered if that success would continue into the Big Ten season. Well, so far it has. Right now, they’re at the top of the conference with a 7–2 mark (24–5 overall), and currently they’ve won nine of their last ten games.
Game time on Friday is at 4 p.m., so fire up Gametracker if you can.
The next home game will be Tuesday, April 17th against Illinois State. The Illini will be looking for some revenge for that 16–7 loss to the Redbirds earlier this season, I’m sure.
See you at the ballpark!
Check out more Illinois Baseball reporting from Thomas at Illinois Baseball Report.