This past week, Illinois Baseball went on to the NCAA Regionals in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a double-elimination tournament with four teams in this particular Regional, including tough Vanderbilt who is #1 in the nation. Illinois played valiantly, winning their first game, but just couldn’t manage to get through the lineup of tough teams.
NCAA Nashville Regional Wrap-up
On Friday, the Illini started out hot as can be. Behind the hitting of leftfielder Jordan Parr and the superb pitching of freshman Kevin Duchene, they defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 6–4. Parr was behind the offensive attack, hitting two home runs, giving him eight for the season. Duchene allowed three runs in seven innings for the victory. That gave him nine wins for 2013, which is a record for the most by an Illini freshman.
On Saturday, it was Vanderbilt’s turn. Not only were they the #1 seed, but they are the #1 team in the national polls. So the Illini had their work cut out for them. I will say this: through six innings, Illinois held their own. At that point, it was still a close game at 5–4 Vandy. The eighth inning really sealed for the Commodores. They scored five runs, mostly off of usually-reliable Ronnie Muck. In all, Illinois went through six pitchers on Saturday. Final score: Vanderbilt 10 Illinois 4
Like the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Regionals are a double elimination affair so Illinois came back suited up the next day. Number four seed East Tennessee State had already been knocked out so Illinois had a rematch with Georgia Tech on Sunday in the elimination game.
It was the heartbreaker to end all heartbreakers for Illinois baseball fans. Starter Ryan Castellanos pitched one of his best games of the year. He didn’t allow a run until the sixth inning when GT plated two runs. Jordan Parr came through offensively again as he hit an inside-the-park homerun to give the Illini a 3–2 lead in the eighth inning. The Yellow Jackets proved they weren’t done as they put together a four-run rally in the ninth inning against Illinois reliever Bryan Roberts. With the Georgia Tech 6–3 win, the Illinois season was truly over.
At the beginning of the season, I was asked by a few for a prediction of the Illini’s outcome in 2013. Even putting my obvious biases aside, it was difficult to look into my crystal ball and tell just how good this team was going to be. The team was talented; there was no doubt about that. But some players were young and inexperienced, as well.
Now that Illinois’ 2013 has come and gone, I’m amazed at the potential that the team has reached. The youth on the team played with maturity, and I’m excited about what we have in store for the next couple years. Couple that with the veterans, such as the Parr brothers, Thomas Lindauer, Brandon Hohl, not to mention Kevin Johnson, who was taken from the team a little too early because of injury. I can only imagine what would have happened had Johnson been healthy at the end.
For the record, the Illini ended the season with a 35–20 record. That’s the highest win total since 2000 when they had 41. While I’m throwing stats out, Justin Parr went two for four in the last game to end the season at an incredible .398 batting average. Parr, of course, hit into a 33-game hitting streak (and a smaller 10-game streak to begin the season, too).
In light of Illinois’ loss at the Regionals, there are a couple things to cheer about. Kevin Duchene can add one more honor to his resume. He has been named as a 2013 Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American. Duchene was 9–1 with a 2.79 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings.
And perhaps most importantly, Illinois Baseball as a team earned an NCAA Progress Recognition Award for Academic Progress Rate (APR). This award is “bestowed to teams with APRs in the top 10 percent of their sport nationally for the four-year period ending with 2011–12.”
So what’s next?
This year’s Major League Baseball’s First Year Player Draft will be happening June 6–8. I imagine there will be a few draft-eligible Illini who will be watching that quite closely.
Returning Illini players will be dispersed throughout the country and playing for various summer leagues. Keep an eye on Fighting Illini’s Baseball page for a listing of where all your favorite Illini will be playing this summer.
Great job this year, Illini!!