Phil Haig, who is 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA so far this season, will look to get the 21st-ranked Illini off to a good start at home this season when he takes the ball against Akron on Friday at 3:05 p.m.
March 12, 2009
#21 Illinois vs. Akron // Illinois Field
March 13 // 3:05 PM
March 14 (DH) // 12:05 PM / 3:05 PM
March 15 // 1:05 PM
Akron (2-11) at #21 ILLINOIS (7-2)
Live Stats: Gametracker on fightingillini.com
Live Audio: None
Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Illinois won 15-11 (3/16/08
Game 1 Probables
Illinois: Phil Haig (LHP, 2-0, 0.47 ERA)
Akron: Frank Turocy (RHP, 0-3, 10.95 ERA)
Game 2 Probables
Illinois: Ben Reeser (RHP, 2-0, 2.33 ERA)
Akron: Tom Farmer (RHP, 1-1, 7.31 ERA)
Game 3 Probables
Illinois: Bryan Roberts (RHP, 0-0, 21.00 ERA)
Akron: Benjamin Danziger (RHP, 1-1, 3.18 ERA)
Game 4 Probables
Akron: Andrew Brown (RHP, 0-1, 8.76 ERA)
...ranked #21 in this week's Collegiate Baseball poll
...6-1 in its last 7 games
...6-0 when leading after the seventh inning
...4-1 in day games
...5-2 when scoring in the first inning
...6-2 when scoring first
...5-0 when out-hitting its opponent
...5-1 when a starter gets the decision
...3-0 in games decided by 2 or fewer runs
...outscoring its opponents 13-6 in the 1st inning
Illini Line Drives
Illinois Jumps Into National Polls: The Fighting Illini jumped into the Collegiate Baseball national poll on March 9 after taking two of three from No. 1 LSU, entering the rankings at No. 21. Illinois also received votes in the NCBWA poll and had the sixth-most votes among the unranked teams in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 coaches' poll. It is the first time Illinois has been ranked since April 17, 2000, and highest ranking since being No. 20 on May 11, 1998.
Illini Off to Hot Start: Illinois has started the season 7-2, its best start since going 8-1 to open the 2002 campaign. The Illini also won their next three games that season, going 11-1 to begin the year.
Down Go the Tigers!: The Fighting Illini won their series at consensus No. 1 LSU March 6-8, winning the Friday and Sunday games. It was Illinois' first win over a top-ranked team since 1995 and is believed to be the Illini's first-ever series victory over a No. 1 foe.
Pitchers Turn it Around: Illinois currently has a 4.67 staff ERA after finishing 2008 with a staff ERA of 6.44. More impressively, the Illini have a 1.57 ERA in games they have won, allowing just 11 earned runs in seven games. Phil Haig currently leads the staff and the Big Ten with a 0.47 ERA and the Illini rank third as a team.
Reeser Has Career Outing: Senior starter Ben Reeser had the game of a lifetime in the series finale at No. 1 LSU on March 8, taking a shutout into the ninth inning and striking out a career-high nine hitters. He earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and was named to the College Baseball Foundation National All-Star Lineup for his efforts.
Argo Makes Splash: Freshman outfielder Willie Argo will always remember his collegiate debut. He became what is believed to be the first player in major-college baseball to ever homer three times in his collegiate debut with three dingers against No. 1 LSU on March 7. Argo homered in the second, fourth and seventh innings, and also drew a walk in the sixth.
Johnson Showcases All-Around Game: Junior catcher Aaron Johnson was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week on March 9 after hitting .500 at No. 1 LSU, including a game-winning two-run homer in the top of the ninth of the March 6 game. He also threw out 4-of-6 would-be base-stealers against an LSU team that had swiped 30 bags in nine games prior to that series, and was credited for calling an excellent series behind the plate by head coach Dan Hartleb.
Kimes Hits High Note: Freshman left-handed reliever Corey Kimes struck out the side in the eighth inning of Illinois' 3-1 win over No. 1 LSU on March 6, using just 12 pitches to retire the only three hitters he faced. On the season, Kimes has allowed one unearned run on one hit with five strikeouts and a .167 opponent batting average.
Rookie Above Parr: Freshman second baseman Josh Parr was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week and to the College Baseball Foundation National All-Star Lineup after hitting .700 with five RBIs and a four-hit game at the Al Ogletree Classic. For the season, he's hitting .387 and is perfect defensively.
Chimmer Saves the Day: Sophomore Nick Chmielewski has thrived in his new role as closer so far, saving two games while allowing just two runs on five hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts. His biggest improvements over 2008 have been lowering the numbers of walks and hit batters. Last year he walked 24 and hit 11 in 31 2/3 innings.
Illini Have Earliest Home Opener Since 1986
The No. 21 Fighting Illlini host Akron in a four-game series this weekend, Illinois' earliest home opener since hosting Indiana on March 13, 1986. The series will mark the third time that the Illini have opened at home on March 13, matching the early starts in 1985 and 1986. This is a stark turnaround from 2008, when Illinois played its first 23 games on the road. Friday's game starts at 3 p.m., the Saturday doubleheader featuring two seven-inning games begins at noon and Sunday's finale starts at 1 p.m.
Friday's home opener is the debut of the Grand Slam Family Pack promotion, good all season, which features four tickets, four hot dogs and four regular sodas for just $26, a savings of approximately $10 over regular prices. Illinois baseball schedule magnets also will be given away all weekend.
Saturday's game features "Luck o' the Illini Day," where fans will have the opportunity to celebrate St. Patrick's Day a few days early at Illinois Field. Anyone who wears green gets in free, fans will have the opportunity to win green prizes and there will be Irish music played throughout the game. Plus, any fans who can be considered "doubles" because they have the same name, are wearing the same clothes, etc., will have the opportunity to win prizes as part of Doubleheader Day.
Sunday is Ugly Sweater Day where the fans dressed in the ugliest cold-weather gear will win prizes, and Extra-Inning Sunday is a new feature in 2009, where fans of all ages can meet and get autographs from Fighting Illini players on the field after the game.
Illinois' History Against Akron
Illinois is 1-1 all-time against the Zips, losing a 12-7 game on Spring Trip in 1999 and downing Akron, 15-11 on the 2008 Spring Trip. Last year's game went down to the wire after the Fighting Illini scored first and came back from three different deficits. Illinois scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth after Akron took an 11-9 lead in the top of the inning, finishing with a game-winning grand slam by DH Daniel Webb.
Last Week: Illini Take Down #1 LSU
Illinois won two of three games at No. 1 LSU last weekend, breaking the Tigers' 25-game regular-season winning streak and defeating a No. 1 team for the first time since 1995. It also marked LSU's first home non-conference series loss since 2007. The Illini became the first non-SEC team to limit LSU to two or fewer runs twice in the same series since Long Beach State in 2003, and the first to do it in Baton Rouge since Houston in 2000. Ironically, that Houston team was the last top-5 team that Illinois had beaten before taking two of three from LSU.
Catcher Aaron Johnson ripped a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Illini a 3-1 win on Friday, and Phil Haig allowed just one earned run in seven innings. Freshman Corey Kimes got his first career win after pitching a perfect eighth inning and striking out the side in 12 pitches and Nick Chmielewski notched his second save of the year.
LSU bounced back on Saturday, dropping the Illini 22-10, behind three grand slams and seven total home runs in the game. Illinois had a few highlights, though, as freshman Willie Argo homered three times in his first three career at bats, driving in five, and Brandon Wikoff went 4-for-5. The Orange and Blue won the rubber match on Sunday, though, as Ben Reeser took a shutout into the ninth inning and Chmielewski finished it off for a 6-2 win. Johnson went 3-for-4 and DH Casey McMurray drove in two with a pair of RBI singles.
Illini Make Giant RPI Leap
No. 21 Illinois made a monstrous leap in a number of pseudo-RPI rankings, leaping to No. 16 in Boyd Nation's Pseudo-RPI ranking and No. 19 in Warren Nolan's RPI rankings. Prior to their series win over No. 1 LSU, the Fighting Illini weren't even in the top 100.
Pitching Leads Way Early in Season
Although it was a question mark heading into the season, pitching has been a strong suit for the Fighting Illini through the first three weekends. Phil Haig has allowed only one earned run in 19 innings of work with a .212 opponent batting average, and Ben Reeser is 2-0 with 17 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, four relievers - John Anderson, Wes Braun, Corey Kimes and Lee Zerrusen - also have posted 0.00 ERAs in six combined innings of work, with Kimes striking out all three hitters he faced at No. 1 LSU on March 6. So far, starters have accounted for 66 percent of Illinois' innings pitched and have posted five outings of seven innings or more.
Illini Offense Starts Strong
For those who wondered who would fill the shoes of departed center fielder Kyle Hudson, DH Daniel Webb and first baseman Ryan Hastings from the 2008 squad, the new version of the Fighting Illini has shown some punch early in the season. Illinois scored 32 runs on the first three weekends and 19 against top-ranked LSU, and is averaging 7.3 runs on 10.1 hits and 4.0 walks per game. The Illini are driving in runners from third with less than two outs 67.6 percent of the time and advancing runners 54.9 percent of the time.
Haig, Reeser Baffle Hitters
Pitchers Phil Haig and Ben Reeser have been stellar in their first two outings this season, with Haig holding a 0.47 ERA and Reeser striking out 17 in 19 1/3 innings. Haig has allowed just one earned run in his last 14 innings over the past two starts, while Reeser has been stellar in his last two starts, giving up just three earned runs in 16 1/3 innings, striking out 15 and walking just four. Reeser notched a career-high nine Ks at No. 1 LSU, while Haig is allowing 1.1 base runners per inning.
Illini Strong in the Middle
Illinois has been especially effective during the middle innings so far, outscoring its opponents 34-11 in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. That helped offset their opponents' 24-14 advantage in the late innings.
Veterans Provide Strong Core of Lineup...
Illinois has its strongest group of veteran players in years, returning 61 percent (246 of 405) of its runs from 2008, with only Kyle Hudson (61 R), Ryan Hastings (46), Daniel Webb (34) and John Schlichter (18) not returning this season. In addition, the Illini return 62 percent (389 of 630) of their hits from a year ago. However, the most impressive stat may be the number of innings Illinois returns, with 88 percent returning as only Scott Shaw (56 1/3 IP) departed from the 2008 staff.
...But Youngsters Prove to be Solid Early
While the Illini return much of their offensive production and nearly all of their innings on the mound from 2008, a number of freshmen and sophomores have already proven they will be major contributors this season. Sophomore Casey McMurray, a Freshman All-American in 2008, is hitting .314 with a team-high 11 runs scored, and Phil Haig is 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA in 19 innings pitched.
But the biggest surprise among the sophomores is Pete Cappetta, who is the team co-leader in average at .387 with 12 hits and two doubles, mostly while playing DH. Freshman Josh Parr is tied with Cappetta at .387 and 12 hits and has driven in eight runs. And freshman Willie Argo burst onto the scene with three home runs in his first three career at bats at No. 1 LSU on March 7.
Sophomore Nick Chmielewski has thrived as the closer, notching two saves in four appearances while striking out nine in the 14 outs he's recorded. And relievers Corey Kimes, John Anderson, Lee Zerrusen and Wes Braun - all juniors or younger - currently have not allowed an earned run.
*Complete game notes in above PDF file