Illini Baseball Opens Season Against Troy State
Click here to hear Coach Jones' comments on the opening of the 2001 season
Feb. 12, 2001
Illinois (0-0/0-0) vs. Troy State (3-3/0-0)
Jones looking at win no. 1,100 - Illinois Head Coach Richard "Itch" Jones, one of NCAA Division I's winningest coaches of all-time needs three more wins to reach 1,100 for his career. Jones' record entering the 2001 season is 1,097-623-5. Only 22 coaches have reached the 1,000 win plateau all-time, and only 16 have won 1,100.
Illini picked third - In its annual college preview, Baseball America picked Illinois to finish third in the Big Ten behind Minnesota and Purdue. The magazine also named first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer and closer Matt Vorwald to its all-conference team and named Schutzenhofer the best pure hitter in the conference and Jeff Gertz the catcher with the best arm in the Big Ten.
Collegiate Baseball weighs in - In its own college preview issue, Collegiate Baseball picked Illinois to finish fourth in the Big Ten. The publication listed four Illini as players to watch this season in the conference - first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer, third baseman Luke Simmons, lefthander Andy Dickinson and closer Matt Vorwald.
Postseason streak - The University of Illinois has the longest current streak of appearances in the Big Ten Tournament of any team in the conference. Illinois has been in the last five Big Ten Tournaments, the longest streak since Minnesota qualified for six-straight tournaments from 1990-95.
.300 streak - Illinois has been one of the most prolific offenses in the country the past few years, hitting over .300 as a team for the past three seasons after narrowly missing in 1997 with a .299 team batting average. The '98 Big Ten Championship team was the most impressive, hitting a school-record .347 as a team (good for ninth in the nation that year) as eight of the nine starters hit over .300. The 1999 line-up led the Big Ten for the second-straight year, this time with a .338 team batting average, good for 12th in the nation. Last year's team hit .316 as a team, ranking third in the Big Ten and once again among the top in the country.
Returning offensive production - Although Illinois lost some of its offensive punch to graduation and the major league draft, it won't be an entirely new lineup in 2001. In fact, 61 percent of Illinois' 2000 at bats return, along with 61 percent of the runs, 66 percent of the RBI's, 61 percent of 2000's hits, 69 percent of the home runs and 64 percent of the doubles from a year ago. The majority of those returning numbers come from returning starters Jeff Gertz (C), Rob Fischer (LF), Brady Ballard (CF), Joe Parenti (RF), Andy Schutzenhofer (1B) and Luke Simmons (DH).
Returning pitching - Along with the offense, the pitching staff returns a majority of its punch from a year ago despite losing All-American Jason Anderson and two other starters. The pitchers return 49 percent of last year's wins, 59 percent of the appearances, 49 percent of the innings pitched and strikeouts and 100 percent of last year's saves. In total, this year's pitching staff returns a 20-11 record from a year ago with eight saves. Returnees who contributed heavily a year ago include starters Andy Dickinson and Ryan Kvasnicka and closer Matt Vorwald.
Experienced outfield - While this year's infield may show a number of new faces, the outfield will look much the same as a year ago. Senior Rob Fischer (.272, 6 HR, 39 RBI) returns for his second season as the everyday starter in left, and Brady Ballard (.319, 4, 37), Joe Parenti (.314, 3, 22) and Greg Belcher (.320, 0, 6) all return to patrol either center or right field.
New infield - With the loss of second baseman D.J. Svihlik, shortstop Chris Basak and third baseman Craig Marquie to graduation and the draft the Illinois infield is going to have a decidedly different look to it in 2001. Junior Luke Simmons is penciled in as the third baseman, but a number of players will get a shot at all three open spots. Those in the running along with Simmons include sophomores T.F. Meagher and Ryan Lawrence, redshirt freshman Brian Raymond and freshmen Vince DiMaria, Chad Frk and Andy Hilligoss.
Schutzenhofer makes Smith Award Watch List - Illinois sophomore first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer is listed on the preseason Smith Award Watch List, the award given annually to college baseball's top player. The 2000 freshman All-American hit .375 last year with an Illinois freshman record 87 hits and 63 RBI en route to being named first-team All-Big Ten.
Schutzenhofer one of the top returners in the Big Ten - Illinois sophomore first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer has a tough act to follow this season. As a freshman he earned first-team All-Big Ten and freshman All-America honors after hitting .375 and setting Illinois freshman records for hits (87) and RBI (63). He enters this year as the Big Ten's top returner in three statistical categories - hits, runs and RBI and he has the third-highest batting average of all returning players in the conference.
Dickinson fights for No. 1 spot - It looks like junior lefthander Andy Dickinson is set to step in this season and answer the biggest question on the pitching staff - who will fill the shoes of departed All-American Jason Anderson. Dickinson, whose eight wins a year ago were second only to Anderson's 14, is slated to fill the No. 1 slot in the rotation. A year ago he posted an 8-3 record with a 4.11 ERA while throwing anywhere from spots two to four in the rotation. His biggest win came at the Big Ten Tournament where he three-hit Penn State, which at the time had the nation's top offense, in a second round game Illinois won, 5-3.
Simmons enjoys end of season hot streak - Junior Luke Simmons was caught in a sophomore slump at the beginning of last season but caught fire over the last few weekends. Over the last 26 games of 2000 Simmons hit .443 (39-88) and over the last 17 games he hit .500 (27-54). In total Simmons posted 40 percent of his total season hits in the last 25 percent of the season and he struck out only four times in the last 23 games, as opposed to 24 times in the first 41 games.
Illinois boasts top defensive catching corps - Illinois senior catcher Jeff Gertz, tabbed by Baseball America as the catcher with the best arm in the conference, has numbers to back up the claim. Over his two years at Illinois Gertz has thrown out 48 of 103 would-be base stealers, or 47 percent over his career. Last year he threw out 23 of 49 runners (also 47 percent). That percentage led all of the everyday catchers in the Big Ten. Second to Gertz was the Iowa tandem of Brad Husz, Toby Humes and Alex Dvorsky, who while platooning at catcher together threw out 44% of would-be stealers. New York Yankees first round draft pick David Parrish of Michigan came in third among the everyday catchers with a 38% mark last season.
As a team Illinois also ranked first in the conference defensively behind the plate, as Gertz and Patrick Arlis combined to throw out 45% of those running on them, topping Iowa (44%) and Northwestern and Penn State (both 37%) in the team category.
Vorwald in on the action - Closer Matt Vorwald had some kind of decision in 34 percent (14 of 41) of Illinois' wins a year ago, and in 41 percent (7 of 17) of the team's Big Ten wins. His eight saves ranked first on the team, and his six wins were third to staff ace Jason Anderson and Andy Dickinson. In conference play, the Illini closer posted a 3-0 record with four saves. He picked up two wins in a day at Northwestern and posted a team-low 2.29 ERA in Big Ten games before missing the postseason with a shoulder injury.
First tournament title under coach Jones - Illinois' 2000 Big Ten Tournament title was the first under current head coach Itch Jones and the third in the program's history. Illinois also won the tournament in both 1989 and '90 under Augie Garrido. The title was Jones' second at Illinois (he also won the regular season title in 1998) and gave him a ticket to his 12th NCAA postseason bid (his second at Illinois).
Winning Game One - If there's one thing the Illinois baseball team counts on, it's winning game one of its Big Ten series. From 1997-2000, with aces Brett Weber and Jason Anderson on the mound, Illinois won game one 19 of 25 times in conference play. And when the Illini got the first win out of the way on Friday, the team has gone on to win 13 of the 18 series, and of the five the team has not won, the Orange and Blue split three and lost two.
All-Americans in the 1990s - The University of Illinois has had more baseball players (19 in all) earn All-American honors in the past decade than any other school in the Big Ten Conference. Illinois has two former freshman All-Americans on this year's squad - first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer (Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, 2000) and third baseman Luke Simmons (Collegiate Baseball 1999).
You're Listening to Fighting Illini Baseball . . . - This season WDWS AM 1400, the flagship station of Fighting Illini athletics, will broadcast almost 40 Illinois baseball regular season games, in addition to all postseason action. The station will carry all of Illinois' home games and the majority of road games, starting after the Spring Trip. Big Ten games played on Friday on the road that start before 4 p.m. central time will be broadcast live on the internet. This season Dave Loane and Brian Barnhart will call the action. Games can be heard on the Illini Sports Network and live on the internet at www.fightingillini.com.
Summer placement - University of Illinois baseball players compete in some of the most prestigious collegiate summer leagues every year and this coming summer will be no exception. Nineteen of Illinois' top underclassmen will suit up for various summer leagues as far north as Alaska, east as New Jersey and south as North Carolina.
This is Illinois Baseball - Illinois Baseball has 19 All-Americans in the last decade - more than any other school in the Big Ten Conference . . . Illinois Baseball's last three senior classes have set records for Big Ten wins by a single class . . . Illinois Baseball is the only Big Ten team to have qualified for the past five Big Ten Tournaments . . . Illinois Baseball's 2,077 all-time wins rank 11th in NCAA Division I Baseball history . . . Illinois Baseball has hit over .300 as a team the past three years, ranking ninth in the country in 1998 with a school-record .347 team batting average, 12th in the country in 1999 with a .338 team batting average and hitting .316 as a team in 2000 . . . Illinois Baseball has had three Big Ten Players of the Year and two Big Ten Pitcherx of the Year in the 1990s . . . Illinois Baseball has 61 Academic All-Big Ten selections over the last 10 years . . . Illinois Baseball has 27 Big Ten Championships in the program's history.