Illinois Opens Season at Georgia State in Atlanta

Sophomore Kevin Duchene will start the season opener for the Illini on Friday at Georgia State.
Sophomore Kevin Duchene will start the season opener for the Illini on Friday at Georgia State.

Feb. 12, 2014

 Illinois (0-0) at Georgia State (0-0)
 Game 1 Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 | 3 p.m. CT
 Game 2 Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 | 1 p.m. CT
 Game 3 Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 | 12 p.m. CT
 Location GSU Baseball Complex | Atlanta, Ga.
 Gametracker Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Game Notes Illinois | Georgia State
 Game 1 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Kevin Duchene (LHP, So., 9-1, 2.79 ERA)*
GSU: Nathan Bates (RHP, So., 2-1, 2.98 ERA)*
 Game 2 Pitching  Matchup ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, Jr., 5-3, 4.27 ERA)*
GSU: Andrew Fessler (LHP, Sr., 6-2, 3.04 ERA)*
 Game 3 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Drasen Johnson (RHP, r-Jr., 3-1, 3.07 ERA)*
GSU: Matt Rose (RHP, So., 3-2, 2.55 ERA)*
 Series History First meeting
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook
 Preview Interviews Coach Hartleb | Drasen Johnson
  *records and ERA from 2013 season

Illinois... beginning its 135th year of baseball playing Georgia State for the first time
...had the same number of wins as GSU in 2013 (35)
...returns 81.2 percent of innings pitched (399 of 491), 77.8 percent of strikeouts (246 of 316) and 74.2 percent of wins (26 of 35) from 2013 pitching staff
...returns 44 percent of hits (251 of 571), 43.2 percent of runs (145 of 336), 40.7 percent of total bases (320 of 787) and 15.6 percent of home runs (5 of 32) from 2013
...has made an NCAA Regional two of the last three years
...was picked to finish T-5th in the Big Ten
...does not have a Parr on roster for first time since 2008

Leading Off
Season Opener: The Illinois baseball team will open the 2014 season with a three-game series in Atlanta, Ga., against Georgia State, marking its first-ever meeting with GSU. The Illini are scheduled to take on the Panthers at the GSU Baseball Complex in the season opener on Friday, Feb. 14 at 3 p.m. CT. Game two of the series is on Saturday (Feb. 15) at 1 p.m. CT followed by the series finale on Sunday (Feb. 16) at noon CT.

Pitching Match-Ups: Illinois will feature the same top two pitchers from its NCAA Regional run last season, while reliever Drasen Johnson will transition to the starting rotation during his redshirt-junior season. Sophomore Kevin Duchene, a Freshman All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013, will continue his role from late last season as the No. 1 starter on staff. The lefty Duchene will toe the rubber against GSU's righty Nathan Bates in Friday's opener. Saturday's showdown will pit junior RHP John Kravetz against senior LHP Andrew Fessler. Two righties will square off on Sunday in Johnson vs. GSU's Matt Rose.

Know Your Opponent
Looking at GSU: Georgia State joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2014 after spending the previous eight years in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA). GSU will return the majority of the lineup that ranked in the top five nationally in batting average (.321) and runs per game (7.9) during its 35-win season in 2013. The Panthers return 19 letterwinners, including three players who earned All-America recognition last spring, and have added 11 newcomers. Head coach Greg Frady is in his eighth year at the helm.

Top Panthers Back: Headlining the returning offensive cast are two honorable-mention All-Americans in shortstop Chad Prain and outfielder-designated hitter Chase Raffield, as well as freshman All-American Matt Rose, a standout on the infield and the mound. Top returnees on the pitching staff include senior southpaws Andrew Fessler (6-2, 3.04 ERA) and Ben Burns (6-3, 2 saves), junior righty Jerry Stuckey (3-2, 3 saves) and the sophomore right-hander Rose (3-2, 5 saves, 2.55).

Illini Picked T-5th in Big Ten Preseason Poll
Illinois was picked to finish tied for fifth in the Big Ten in the preseason poll voted on by the conference coaches. The Illini received the same number of votes as Michigan, while Indiana was the unanimous choice as the preseason favorite to claim the Big Ten Championship followed by Nebraska (2nd), Ohio State (3rd) and Michigan State (4th). Starting pitcher Kevin Duchene, first baseman David Kerian and closer Ronnie Muck were named Players to Watch from Illinois.

Who's Back? Who's Not?
Following its second NCAA Regional appearance in the last three years, Illinois will feature a new look in 2014 with only two seniors on the roster compared to its veteran squad a year ago. The Illini lost their entire outfield and left side of the infield from last year's postseason lineup, but will return the full pitching rotation from their Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Regional appearances. Ninth-year head coach Dan Hartleb will be without many familiar faces from recent years at Illinois Field. Three position players were drafted in center fielder Justin Parr, left fielder Jordan Parr and shortstop Thomas Lindauer, while right fielder Davis Hendrickson and four-year starting third baseman Brandon Hohl both graduated.

On the other hand, UI's pitching staff, which posted its lowest ERA (3.76) in 37 years, is back in full force with its weekend rotation returning sophomore Kevin Duchene, junior John Kravetz and sophomore Ryan Castellanos. Only a pair of pitchers were lost to graduation in four-year starter Kevin Johnson, who was sidelined at the end of 2013 due to an arm injury, and closer Bryan Roberts, who wrapped up his career tied for the third-most saves in school history.

By the numbers, here is a breakdown of what Illinois will return in 2014. The Illini return 81.2 percent of their innings pitched (399 of 491), 77.8 percent of their strikeouts (246 of 316) and 74.2 percent of their wins (26 of 35). While the majority of the pitching production is back, less than half of the Big Ten's second-ranked offense will take the field in 2014. Illinois will bring back 44 percent of its hits (251 of 571), 43.2 percent of its runs (145 of 336), 40.7 percent of its total bases (320 of 787) and 15.6 percent of its home runs (5 of 32).

Closer Look at the Starting Staff
Lowest ERA in 37 Years: Last season, pitching coach Drew Dickinson's young staff - which featured two freshmen and a sophomore in the postseason rotation - lowered its ERA by more than a run from 2012 from 4.77 ERA to 3.76 ERA, which ranks as the lowest mark since 1976 (3.43 ERA). His staff nearly boasted a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (316 K to 162 BB) and held opponents to a .267 average. In 2014, all but two pitchers (Johnson and Roberts) will toe the rubber again for the Illini.

Duchene Continues His Friday Night Role: Sophomore Kevin Duchene, who broke the school record for wins by a freshman with nine last season, will lead the staff heading into 2014. The Joliet, Ill., native assumed the Friday night role for the final month of 2013 when Kevin Johnson went out with an arm injury. His final six starts were as the No. 1 starter and featured a career-best 11-strikeout, two-hit shutout against Penn State that propelled him to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. After becoming just the second ever Illini to win the award and being named second-team All-Big Ten, the southpaw capped his stellar rookie season with a quality start in UI's victory over Georgia Tech in the NCAA Nashville Regional. Duchene, who was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA, Baseball America and Perfect Game, finished 9-1 with a team-best 2.79 ERA in 2013.

Kravetz Provides the Experience: Junior John Kravetz will be the most experienced starting pitcher in the rotation, as he enters the year back in the No. 2 spot. The Lansing, Ill., native boasts a 13-6 overall record and a team-best 178.1 IP in his first two seasons. The right-hander has been a workhorse for the Illini, making all 29 starts since entering the rotation. During his sophomore season in 2013, he lowered his ERA (4.72 to 4.27) and increased his strikeouts (45 to 52) while finishing with a 5-3 record. He broke the school record for most wins by a freshman with eight in 2012 before Duchene surpassed the mark last year.

Reliever Johnson Moves into Rotation: Redshirt-junior Drasen Johnson will transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2014. The Chillicothe, Ill., native has made five starts in his career, while the majority of his work has come out of the bullpen with 31 appearances. Last season, he finished 3-1 with a 3.07 ERA in 20 appearances (one start) and totaled 12 strikeouts. In his final 12 appearances, he only allowed one run and 11 hits over 17.2 IP (0.51 ERA) while picking up three wins.

No More Parrs, But Two Ropers
For the first time in five seasons, Illinois will not have a Parr brother (Josh, Justin or Jordan) on the roster. Instead, UI will have a new set of brothers in Reid and Ryne Roper. Older brother Reid is a redshirt-junior and has started the last two seasons at second base along with serving as closer. Younger brother Ryne is a freshman who was selected as the Illinois High School Gatorade Player of the Year in 2013 and is also an infielder and pitcher.

Beginning with Josh in 2009, the Illini had a Parr on the lineup card for 270 of a possible 271 games over the past five years. The only time a Parr did not play in a game for the Illini was when Josh missed the second game of a doubleheader on April 4, 2009.

All three brothers had standout careers at Illinois and were taken in the MLB Draft. Josh, the oldest brother and a two-time All-Big Ten selection at shortstop, lettered from 2009-11 before being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 12th round following his junior year. Justin lettered from 2011-13, playing one season (2011) with Josh and two seasons (2012-13) with his twin brother, Jordan. Justin was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year as the UI center fielder during his senior season in 2013 before being drafted in the eighth round by the Philadelphia Phillies. Jordan lettered from 2012-13 and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection before being drafted in the 15th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks following his redshirt-junior season in 2013. Despite not playing with each other at Illinois, Josh and Jordan were reunited when they both played for the Hillsboro Hops (Diamondbacks Short-Season A affiliate) in the summer of 2013.

Uniform Number Changes in 2014
Five players and pitching coach Drew Dickinson will be wearing new numbers on their jerseys in 2014. The full list of changes is below:
Nick Blackburn = No. 22 (wore No. 13 in 2013)
Drew Dickinson = No. 14 (wore No. 41 from 2012-13)
Jason Goldstein = No. 34 (wore No. 36 in 2013)
Zack Kolakowski = No. 2 (wore No. 37 in 2013)
Rob McDonnell = No. 16 (wore No. 14 from 2011-13)
Ryan Nagle = No. 9 (wore No. 44 in 2013)

Homegrown Talent Abounds
The Illinois roster is made up of 35 players, 30 of whom are from the state of Illinois. The five players who don't hail from the Land of Lincoln include junior infielder David Kerian (South Dakota), redshirt-junior catcher Kelly Norris-Jones (British Columbia, Canada), sophomore Ryan Castellanos (Florida), sophomore J.D. Nielsen (Iowa) and freshman Dan Rowbottom (Ohio).

This is Illinois Baseball
Illinois has had players named to 36 All-American teams in the last 15 years ... Illinois is 351-203 (.634) all-time at Illinois Field ... Illinois' 2,406 all-time wins were ranked 19th in NCAA Division I Baseball history at the beginning of 2013 ... Illinois has hit over .300 as a team in 10 of the past 16 years and over .310 in five of the last nine seasons ... Illinois has posted a fielding percentage of .960 or better in 14 of the last 15 years, including a school-record .973 mark in 2011 ... Illinois has had four Big Ten Players of the Year and three Big Ten Pitchers of the Year in the last decade ... Illinois has 126 Academic All-Big Ten selections over the last 14 years ... Illinois has 29 Big Ten Championships in the program's history.