Illini Open Big Ten Play vs. Nebraska at Illinois Field

Bryan Roberts and the Illini will begin Big Ten play with a three-game series against Nebraska this weekend.
Bryan Roberts and the Illini will begin Big Ten play with a three-game series against Nebraska this weekend.

March 21, 2013

 Illinois (13-4) vs. Nebraska (6-13) - Home/Big Ten Opener
 Game 1 Friday, March 22, 2013 | 4:05 p.m.
 Game 2 Saturday, March 23, 2013 | Noon (DH)
 Game 3 Saturday, March 23, 2013 | 3 p.m. (DH)
 Location Illinois Field | Champaign, Ill.
 Live Audio ($) Game 2 | Game 3
 Gametracker Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Game Notes Illinois (PDF) | Nebraska (PDF)
 Game 1 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Kevin Johnson (RHP, Sr., 3-1, 2.48 ERA)
NEB: Christian DeLeon (RHP, Jr., 1-2, 1.91 ERA)
 Game 2 Pitching  Matchup ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, So., 2-0, 3.28 ERA)
NEB: Ryan Hander (RHP, Sr., 0-2, 4.03 ERA)
 Game 3 Pitching  Matchup ILL: TBA
NEB: Brandon Pierce (RHP, Jr., 1-3, 5.25 ERA)
 Series History Illinois leads 4-2
 Games in CU Illinois leads 3-0
 Last Season Nebraska won series, 2-1
 Streak Lost 2
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook
 Preview Interviews Coach Hartleb | Will Krug | Bryan Roberts

Illinois Is...
...12-1 in its last 13 games
...6-0 at neutral site games
...3-0 in extra-inning games
...outscoring its opponents 105-63
...coming off back-to-back sweeps (Baylor & SIU)
...11-2 when scoring first & 9-0 when leading after 7th

Home/Big Ten Opener vs. Nebraska
After spending the first five weeks of the season on the road, Illinois will remain in Champaign this weekend when it opens Big Ten play with a three-game series against Nebraska. The home opener at Illinois Field is slated for 4:05 p.m. on Friday, March 22, with senior Kevin Johnson (3-1, 2.48 ERA) scheduled to start against Christian DeLeon (1-2, 1.91 ERA). Due to potential inclement weather, Sunday's series finale has been moved to Saturday, meaning the Illini and Cornhuskers will play a doubleheader on March 23 at noon and 3 p.m. Sophomore John Kravetz (2-0, 3.28 ERA) will start game one on Saturday against Ryan Hander (0-2, 4.03 ERA), while the game two starter is TBA.

Team Notes on the Illini
Streaking on the Road: Illinois has won 12 of their last 13 games, marking the best stretch by an Illini team since 1998 when they won 13 of 14 from March 25-April 11. The Orange and Blue are now 13-4 overall and have received votes in the NCBWA poll each of the past two weeks. The Illini swept back-to-back series after taking all three games against both Southern Illinois and Baylor and secured their second six-game winning streak of the season. The last time they swept two consecutive road series was in 2009 at Penn State (April 24-26) and at Northwestern (May 1-3).

Difference is in the Pitching: In its first four games of the year, the Illini averaged 6.5 runs and the pitching staff posted a 6.15 ERA while allowing 23 earned runs in 33.2 innings. In the past 13 games, Illinois has averaged fewer runs (6.1), but its hurlers have made the difference, compiling a 2.25 ERA after allowing just 30 earned runs in 120 innings. Opponents started hitting .321 against UI in the first four games, but are down to .233 in the past 13 contests.

Early Offense Key for Illini: The Illini are 7-2 when scoring in the first inning and 11-2 when scoring before their opponent. Illinois is outscoring its opponents 15-4 in the first frame and has scored double-digit runs in six different innings on the season, while their opponents only have one. Illinois' highest scoring inning is the seventh with 18, and the Illini rank third in the Big Ten with 105 runs on the year.

Illini Player Notes
Resilient Roberts Returns: Fifth-year senior Bryan Roberts, the oldest player on the Illini, picked up back-to-back wins at Southern Illinois, marking his first victories in nearly three years after redshirting the 2011 season following tommy john surgery and making only three appearances in 2012 due to arm trouble. The Lisle, Ill., native made his first trip of the season to SIU and won the final two games against the Salukis thanks to 2.2 perfect innings and five strikeouts out of the bullpen while also sending both contests to extra innings.

Roberts notched his first win since May 1, 2010 after entering his first game of the season with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 4-4 against SIU (3/16). He recorded a strikeout on five pitches to force extra innings, where the Illini won it 7-5 in the 10th inning. He picked up a second-straight victory against SIU (3/18) after again entering the game with the bases loaded in the seventh and getting a key strikeout followed by pitching a perfect eighth and ninth inning to force extras, where the Illini won it 2-1 in the 10th inning. He has faced eight batters on the year and has five strikeouts.

Johnson to Join 300 IP Club: In his last start, senior Kevin Johnson passed former Illini Jason Anderson and moved into fourth place on the school's career innings pitched list with 299.2. The senior is one out away from joining Mark Dressen (328.2), Brett Weber (315.2) and current Illini pitching coach Drew Dickinson (304.2) as the only Illini pitchers to throw 300-plus innings in their careers. Johnson was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft following the 2012 season, but elected to return to school for his final season in orange and blue. He is in his third season as Illinois' No. 1 starter and leads the staff with a 3-1 record and 2.48 ERA. The Midlothian, Ill., native has not missed a start in his career and owns the most starts on the current Illini staff with 47. His 26 strikeouts in 2013 are tied for third in the Big Ten, while his 190 career strikeouts are ranked eighth on the Illini all-time list.

Roper Saves the Day: Illinois second baseman Reid Roper also serves as the Illini closer. The Harrisburg, Ill., native saved the final two games against Southern Illinois, giving him five saves in five chances for the season, which is tied for second in the Big Ten. He also picked up back-to-back saves during the Baylor series, closing out a pair of one-run victories in Waco and recorded his first save vs. New Mexico State. He was named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List and has totaled eight saves in his career, which is tied for 11th in school history.

Can't Hit Kravetz: Sophomore John Kravetz picked up his second win of the year in the second game of the doubleheader at Baylor, where he equaled a career high with 8 innings pitched and allowed only one run and three hits. The Lansing, Ill., native has only allowed one extra-base hit in four starts and 24.2 IP. He is 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA and has only given up 19 hits, but is receiving the lowest run support of the Illini pitchers with just nine runs scored while he's been on the mound.

Count on Krug: Since moving Will Krug into the leadoff spot in the fifth game of the season vs. Ohio, Illinois has produced a record of 12-1. Krug leads the Illini during that stretch, scoring a team-high 16 runs. The Park Ridge, Ill., native was named a Primetime Performer by College Baseball 360 after the sweep of Baylor in which he hit .538 (7-for-13) and scored five runs in Waco. He led the Illini to their first three-game road series sweep against a non-conference opponent since 2006 (South Florida, March 3-5).

Parrs Driving Illini Home: Twin brothers Jordan and Justin Parr are both back for the second-straight season and are tied for third in the Big Ten with 18 RBI each. Left-handed Justin (30-for-73) and right-handed Jordan (22-for-68) boast the top two hit totals on the team and are hitting .369 combined (52-for-141) as the No. 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup. Jordan's three home runs are tied for second in the conference, while Justin checks in with the third-most hits with 30. Justin (.534) and Jordan (.529) are seventh and ninth, respectively, in slugging percentage in the Big Ten and are both tied for sixth in the conference with seven stolen bases.

Clutch Two-out Hitting: Illinois is hitting .316 (67-for-212) with two outs in an inning and led by sophomore David Kerian, who is 10-for-18 (.556) when faced with the situation. The Illini have 43 two-out RBI, meaning 46 percent (43-of-93) of their RBI have come with two outs. Thomas Lindauer leads the team with nine two-out RBI, while Jordan Parr (8) and Kerian (7) are second and third. Two other players are hitting over .400 with two outs: Jordan Parr 10-for-23 (.435) and Will Krug 6-for-13 (.429).

Series History with Nebraska
Illinois leads the all-time series 4-2 over Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers won last year's series 2-1 at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park during their inaugural season in the Big Ten. The Illini ran away with the opener, 11-3, but dropped the final two games by scores of 18-5 and 13-3. Before meeting last year in Lincoln, Illinois and Nebraska had not played since 1905 when the Illini won 3-0. The Orange and Blue also won games against Big Red in 1903 (7-3) and 1897 (16-9).

Nebraska started the season 0-7 and won four games in a row before dropping six of its last eight. The Cornhuskers have played 10 games against ranked opponents and are 6-13 on the season.

Baylor/SIU Sweeps By the Numbers
Illinois recorded similar numbers in its back-to-back sweeps against Baylor and Southern Illinois. During both weekends down south, the Illini pitchers posted a 1.86 ERA over 29 innings. After striking out 21, walking 12 and allowing 18 hits in Waco, Illinois tallied 20 strikeouts and 12 walks along with giving up 19 hits against SIU. Baylor scored eight runs (six earned) against the Illini, while SIU scored seven runs (six earned). Both the Bears (.176) and Salukis (.181) were held under .200 during each series.

Offensively, Illinois racked up 28 hits during both weekends and hit .257 at Baylor and .255 at SIU. They scored 15 runs against BU and 13 runs against the Salukis. Illinois overcame 4-3 deficits and won in extra innings in both series along with coming back from one-run down to win by one during a game in both series. Four of Illinois' five comeback wins occurred during the sweeps.