Smile Politely

Getting the job done

Celebration after Saturday’s game

After a fantastic final home stand weekend, Fighting Illini baseball team has put themselves in a better spot to make the Big Ten Tournament. Winning all three games against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Illini (31–15, 12–9 Big Ten) rose two spots in the standings and are now tied with Michigan for fifth place.

Now, with one more series left against a tough Minnesota team, the Illini hope to stay among the top six spots so they can advance to the Big Ten Tournament, which begins May 22 at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Weekend Wrap-up

Indeed, Illinois got the job done last weekend against last place Penn State. They needed to put some wins up and that they did.

The story of Friday night belongs to freshman starter Kevin Duchene. Duchene was pitching in the stead of injured senior Kevin Johnson and he filled in quite nicely. With 103 pitches, he threw a complete game two-hit win. Not only that, he kept the Nits hitless until the seventh inning. Duchene was efficient with his pitches, allowing only one walk to go with the two hits. His eleven strikeouts on Friday were pretty impressive, as well. No one has had as many since Duchene’s pitching coach, Drew Dickinson, threw twelve back in 2002.

Justin Parr (pictured above) went three for five with a homerun on the day and three rbis. That extended his hit streak to 32 games. Michael Hurwitz also collected three hits.

Penn State seemed a little more prepared for action on Saturday and gave the Illini a bit of a scare towards the end of the game. The Illini scored seven runs in the first three innings thanks in part to some key hits from Jordan Parr, Brandon Hohl, and Reid Roper. Down 7–2 by the 7th inning, Penn State managed to put together a three-run rally, which made the game a little more interesting for my tastes. Ronnie Muck came in to save the game for winner Ryan Castellanos (3–1) and Illinois won 86.

On Sunday, it was even more touch-and-go for the Illini. Penn State came through with four unanswered runs in the first three innings against pitcher John Kravetz. The Illini offense came through in the late innings, including a three-run rally in the 7th inning. Reid Roper drove home the game-winning run in the 8th inning with a rbi single scoring David Kerian.

With the game on the line, Coach Hartleb went to veteran Bryan Roberts who pitched a scoreless ninth for his fifth save. Drasen Johnson (2–1) got the win in relief in the 54 victory.

I’d like to say that Justin Parr hit safely once again to extend his streak to 34 games. Unfortunately, he didn’t. On Sunday, Parr went 0 for 2 with two walks. If I know Justin like I do, he’s happy with the Illini win. Congrats on the historic streak, Mr. Parr! 

Put one on the mantle for Duchene…

…or maybe two. I wasn’t too surprised to see Illinois starting pitcher Kevin Duchene’s (pictured above) name in this week’s Big Ten press release, but I was really pleased to see that not only was he named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, but also Big Ten Freshman of the Week. He is deserving of those awards. Those of you who saw his performance understand why. Duchene was positively lights out. Congrats Kevin!

Big Ten Watch

Take a look at the current Big Ten Baseball standings. I maintain that there are still three teams vying for the last two postseason spots. They are:

Illinois                 129  .571

Michigan            129   .571

Michigan State  108   .556

We can thank Iowa for upsetting Michigan State two games to one last weekend. Purdue did beat Michigan one game (and almost beat them Friday until Michigan rallied to come back).

The bad news? Michigan State will play Penn State. We know how that worked out for us. The good news? Michigan takes on tough Nebraska this weekend.

Some more good news? In the case of a tie with Michigan, Illinois will win the tie-breaker according to Chris Webb and Fighting Illini Baseball.

Next Up

Illinois will be traveling to Minnesota’s Siebert Field for their last regular season series in a couple days. No doubt, Minnesota has a tough team. They were a pre-season pick to be a contender and they have fulfilled that prediction. For the bulk of the conference season, they have spent it atop the Big Ten standings. Something to consider though: They have lost three of their last four games. At 12–6 (29–18 overall), they are now in a three-way tie for second place with Ohio State and Nebraska.

One thing is for sure, the Golden Gophers get their work done with their pitching. They rank 9th in the Big Ten in hitting (.261) and homeruns (9). Their ERA however, is 2.88, second only to Indiana’s 2.52. In particular, Tom Windle is quite formidable. He’s 6-3 with a miniscule 1.76 ERA.

Because of the Big Ten Tournament, which starts on May 22, the series will start a day early. The games will take place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Go Illini!

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