Feb. 17, 2011
Big East/Big Ten Challenge
Feb. 18 // Pittsburgh // Jack Russell Stadium // 3 pm
Feb. 19 // Cincinnati // Jack Russell Stadium // 9 am
Feb. 20 // West Virginia // Al Lang Field // CollegeBaseball360.com // Noon
Pos Name 2010 Avg Ht B/T Yr Note C Adam Davis .265 6-0 R/R Jr. Illinois was 13-8 when he started at C in 2010, 13-18 when he didn't 1B Matt Dittman .500 6-2 L/R Sr. Went 22-for-44 in 2010; missed final 38 games with a broken wrist 2B Justin Parr --- 6-2 L/R So. Transferred to Illinois after playing at Parkland College in 2010 SS Josh Parr .279 6-0 R/R Jr. Had a great summer season, earning Northwoods League all-star honors 3B Brandon Hohl .278 6-1 R/R So. Started 50 of 52 games at 3B in 2010, making only 6 errors LF Casey McMurray .348 5-8 R/R Sr. Led team with .348 average, .404 average with 2 outs CF Willie Argo .318 6-1 R/R Jr. Broke school record with 41 SBs in 2010; played 2010 with broken wrist RF Pete Cappetta .262 6-2 R/R Sr. CollegeBaseballInsider.com lists him as best outfield arm in Big Ten DH Thomas Shelton .357 6-1 L/R So. Hit .371 in Big Ten play; Member of Naval ROTC at Illinois or Davis Hendrickson .258 6-1 L/L So. Saw most of his 2010 action as late-inning defensive replacement
Pittsburgh (0-0) vs. ILLINOIS (0-0)
ILL Probable: Kevin Johnson (RHP, 5-2, 5.23 ERA)*
PITT Probable: Corey Baker (RHP, 11-3, 5.37 ERA)*
Series: First meeting
Cincinnati (0-0) vs. ILLINOIS (0-0)
ILL Probable: John Anderson (RHP, 0-1, 5.25 ERA)*
UC Probable: TBA
Series: Illinois leads 3-2
Last Meeting: Illinois won 13-3 (3/10/85)
West Virginia (0-0) vs. ILLINOIS (0-0)
ILL Probable: Corey Kimes (LHP, 2-1, 3.12 ERA)*
WVU Probable: Andy Berry (RHP, 4-3, 6.11 ERA)*
Live Video: CollegeBaseball360.com
Series: Illinois leads 6-1
Last Meeting: West Virginia won 11-8 (3/7/10)
...3-3 in the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge
...returning 566 career starts in the field among 7 players
...beginning its 132nd year of baseball
Illini Line Drives
Illini Lineup Loaded with Experience: The probable starting lineup for Illinois features five players who started 38 or more games last year and another (Matt Dittman) who started 42 games in 2009. In their careers, Casey McMurray, Willie Argo, Pete Cappetta, Brandon Hohl, Josh Parr, Adam Davis and Dittman have racked up 566 games started, an average of 80 games started per player.
Pitching Staff Loaded for 2011: Illinois' pitching staff hasn't been a strength since the 2005 season, but that appears to be changing heading into 2011. The Fighting Illini return 11 of 14 pitchers from last year's staff while adding five talented freshman arms. The returning pitchers total 330 2/3 innings from 2010, excluding the 27 2/3 innings pitched by Bryan Roberts because he will not pitch this season. That is an astoundingly high 73.1 percent of last year's innings on the mound.
Role Reversal: A pair of Fighting Illini pitchers will make their first career starts this weekend, as senior right-hander John Anderson is slated to take the ball against Cincinnati on Saturday and junior left-hander Corey Kimes will get the start against West Virginia on Sunday. Anderson has made 34 relief appearances in his two years on the Illini squad - he played for the Illinois club baseball team in his first two years on campus - while Kimes has made 37 relief appearances in two seasons. Anderson is 1-3 with a 4.65 ERA in his career and Kimes is 4-2 with a 4.76 career ERA.
Run Production Returns: The Fighting Illini also return a large portion of their run production from 2010, with 233 of its 342 runs (68.1 percent) and 209 of its 301 RBIs (69.4 percent) on the 2011 roster.
Dittman, Argo Return from Injuries: Two Illini - first baseman Matt Dittman and center fielder Willie Argo - suffered broken wrists last year, with Dittman's season ending after 14 games despite his blistering start (22-for-44, .500). Argo battled the injury throughout the year, but his batting average dipped from a season-high .421 after 12 games to its final .318 mark.
Argo Attacks Record Book: Willie Argo, who hit the second-most home runs by a freshman in school history in 2009, broke Illinois' single-season stolen bases record with 41 in 52 games in 2010, including 15 steals in the last 16 games and four multiple-steal games. He also started the 2010 season with 17 consecutive steals without being caught, the second-longest streak in school history.
Illini Excel Academically: The Fighting Illini boast nine seniors on the roster, including seven fifth-year players. Four of those Illini have already finished their bachelor's degree, with pitcher John Anderson finishing his B.A. in political science with a history minor in May 2010, pitcher Wes Braun wrapping up his B.A. in communication in December 2009, pitcher Chris Pack completing his bachelor's degree in communications at Villanova in 2010 and pitcher Lee Zerrusen completing his B.S. in kinesiology in December 2010. Anderson is currently pursuing an M.S. in library and information science, Braun is working toward an MBA degree, and Pack and Zerrusen are pursuing M.S. degrees in sport management.
Illini Open Season at Big East/Big Ten Challenge
For the third-straight year, the Fighting Illini open the season at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area of Florida. Illinois is 3-3 all-time at the event, going 2-1 in 2009 and 1-2 last season. The Illini are 2-3 against Big East teams at the Challenge, with Illinois' other win coming against Iowa in 2009.
Illinois begins the season by facing Pittsburgh for the first time in school history. The Illini and Panthers will square off at Jack Russell Stadium, the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies from 1955-2003. Pitt was ranked No. 30 in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll and received votes in the NCBWA preseason poll. The Orange and Blue then take on Cincinnati on Saturday, also at Jack Russell Stadium, before facing West Virginia on Sunday at Al Lang Field, the spring training home of five Major League teams throughout history and most recently the Tampa Bay Rays from 1998-2008. The West Virginia game will be streamed live by CollegeBaseball360.com.
The Big Ten won the first Challenge in 2009, 15-9, but the Big East fought back with a 17-13 victory in the 2010 event.
Illini Against Challenge Field
The Fighting Illini have never faced Pittsburgh in the 131 years of Illinois baseball and Illinois is 3-2 all-time against Cincinnati. The teams haven't met since 1985, though, when they split a four-game series in the Queen City. The Orange and Blue are 6-1 all-time against West Virginia, most recently splitting two games in 2009 and 2010. The Illini scored a 17-10 win at the 2009 Big East/Big Ten Challenge, but the Mountaineers fought back with an 11-8 win at last year's Keith LeClair Classic, hosted by East Carolina.
Illini Run Rampant
Willie Argo's school-record 41 stolen bases led an Illini base-stealing crew that ranked second all-time in school history in 2010. Illinois' 114 steals last season also represents the third time in the last four years that Illinois has topped 100 steals in a season. The Illini also nabbed 101 bases in 2008 and 109 in 2007.
Illini Shine in the Classroom
As has been the trend under head coach Dan Hartleb, the Fighting Illini have had a strong academic record in the last year. Illinois' players posted a recent high team GPA of 2.92 in the Fall 2009 semester and brought a combined cumulative GPA of 2.80 into the Spring 2011 term.
Four players also have already earned their bachelor's degrees, with pitchers John Anderson, Wes Braun, Chris Pack and Lee Zerrusen currently pursuing master's degrees. Anderson finished his bachelor's degree in political science with a history minor in May 2010 and is working on a master's in library and information science. Braun completed his B.A. in communication in December 2009 and now is pursuing his MBA degree. Pack completed a degree in communication during his time at Villanova and now is working on an M.S. in sport management. Zerrusen completed his B.S. in kinesiology in December 2010 and is pursuing an M.S. in sport management.
Under Hartleb, all 31 players who have completed their eligibility have earned their degrees or will finish them this academic year. His only four players yet to finish their degrees are Lars Davis, Kyle Hudson, Scott Shaw and Brandon Wikoff, all of whom were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Three other players also finished their bachelor's degrees and began work on master's degrees in past seasons under Hartleb: Mike Sterk, Ryan Hastings and Mike Stankiewicz.
Homegrown Talent Abounds
The Illinois roster is made up of 34 players, 30 of whom are from the state of Illinois. Of the four players who don't hail from the Land of Lincoln, junior outfielder Willie Argo is from Iowa, freshman catcher Ryan Arrick is from Florida, freshman catcher Kelly Norris-Jones is from British Columbia, Canada, and sophomore catcher Thomas Shelton is from Tennessee.
*Complete tournament notes available in the above PDF