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    Illini Baseball Opens 122nd Season At Home Against Spartans
    Senior left fielder Rob Fischer was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week, earning All-Tournament team honors after hitting .440 with three home runs.

    Senior left fielder Rob Fischer was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week, earning All-Tournament team honors after hitting .440 with three home runs.

    March 22, 2001

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    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Friday's Big Ten opener between Illinois and Michigan State also marks the 122nd home opener in Illinois baseball history, making baseball one of the oldest inter-collegiate sports on campus. Illinois is 99-18-1 on home opening day all-time and 11-2 on opening day at Illinois Field.

    Illinois' home opener vs. Michigan State is the first time since 1996 that Illinois has opened its home season against a Big Ten team. In '96 Illinois also opened the home season against MSU. Illinois is 8-2 in Big Ten openers under Coach Jones, and the team has posted a 17-3 record over the opening Big Ten series since 1996, including two four-game sweeps and three series of winning three of four. Last year Illinois won three of four from Iowa to open the conference season.

    Senior left fielder Rob Fischer was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week by the conference office Monday. Fischer earned Fresno State Pepsi/Johnny Quik Classic All-Tournament team honors after hitting .440 with three home runs. He posted a .848 slugging percentage and of his 11 hits, 10 went for extra bases. It is Fischer's first career conference honor.

    When No. 14 Andy Dickinson takes the mound to start game one tonight, it will mark the first time since April 13, 1996, that someone other than No. 9 has thrown game one of a Big Ten series for the Illini. A pair of All-American aces, Brett Weber (1996-98) and Jason Anderson (1999-2000), both wore No. 9 and threw every opening game of a Big Ten series since Weber took over the role of staff ace halfway throught his sophomore campaign.

    Sophomore first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer saw his 20-game hitting streak snapped Tuesday after an 0-2, two sacrifice outing at Indiana State. The streak dated back to last year's Big Ten Tournament and was the closest to threaten Tom Sinak's school-record 23-game streak since center fielder Dusty Rhodes hit safely in 19-consecutive games during the 1997-98 seasons.

    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.

    After hitting only four home runs in 10 games entering the Pepsi/Johnny Quik Classic, Illinois hit 10 in the first three games of the tournament. Senior left fielder Rob Fischer and junior third baseman Luke Simmons hit three, Brady Ballard hit two and Jeff Gertz and Patrick Arlis each hit one at Fresno State.

    Junior lefthander Andy Dickinson has solidified his role as staff ace over the first month of the season. He has a 3-0 record and has thrown three complete games. He has thrown a team-leading 38.0 innings and has struck out 35 which ranks among the Big Ten's leaders. His career record currently stands at 10-4.

    It was a wide open race opening the season, and it looks like Reilly Smith, Justin Olson and Josh Gold have made the best case to be included in the Big Ten rotation after staff ace Andy Dickinson takes his turn on Friday. All three pitchers have turned in solid performances so far this preseason, and each should get a chance to prove himself against Big Ten competition. Smith has a 3.63 ERA and opponents are hitting just .222 off him, making him one of the Big Ten leaders in that category. Gold is coming off a quality start at Indiana State where he allowed only three hits in six innings while striking out a career-high nine batters. Olson owns a 4.40 ERA and threw well in both of his starts on the Spring Trip.

    Coach Jones continues to find a solution to fill the middle infield that was left open by D.J. Svihlik (2B) and Chris Basak(SS). Sophomore T.F. Meagher looks to have the inside track at short after moving there when Andy Hilligoss dislocated the middle finger of his throwing hand on the Spring Trip, while Hilligoss, Chad Frk and Brian Raymond are all making a case for themselves at second.

    A number of newcomers are making an everyday impact in this year's lineup. Second baseman Chad Frk has started nine games this season and is hitting .242 with four RBI. Andy Hilligoss started nine consecutive games at shortstop before getting injured in California and is hitting .231 while redshirt freshman Brian Raymond is hitting .364 with three starts at second base and designated hitter. Finally, freshman righthander Reilly Smith has a 2-1 record and 3.43 ERA over 21 innings of work.

    Illinois has lost the services of sophomores Joe Parenti and Joe Ziemba for the season. Parenti, who hit .314 as the everyday right fielder as a freshman last year, had surgery last week on a broken left foot. Parenti had played seven games this season but will be able to take a medical redshirt. Ziemba was 2-0 last year, including a win over then-No. 3 Houston when he went down with an elbow injury. The righthander had `Tommy John' surgery on the elbow last May and will redshirt this season while rehabbing his throwing arm.

    JONES WINS NO. 1,100
    Illinois Head Coach Richard `Itch' Jones, one of NCAA Division I's winningest coaches of all-time, became only the 17th coach in history to win 1,100 games when Illinois defeated West Virginia 4-3 on March 2. Jones' career record currently stands at 1,105-624-5. He has won 339 of those in the past 10+ years at the helm of the Illinois program.

    ILLINI TAKE HOME TWO TOURNAMENT TITLES IN PRESEASON TRIPS Illinois opens Big Ten play with a sub-.500 8-9 overall record, but the preseason schedule has not been without highlights, including two tournament crowns: the Illini Desert Classic and the Cardinal Baseball Classic titles both went to the Illini, while Illinois also picked up a fourth-place finish at the eight-team Fresno State Pepsi/Johnny Quik Classic. Illinois won the inaugural Illini Desert Classic Feb. 22-25 at the Arizona Diamondbacks spring training complex in Tucson, Ariz. Illinois posted a 2-1 record over the weekend with wins over Washington and BYU and a loss to Kentucky. Illinois won the title by virtue of its head-to-head win over Washington, as the Huskies also posted a 2-1 record over the weekend.

    By virtue of sweeping the field at the Carindal Baseball Classic March 2-3, Illinois won its second tournament title in as many weeks. Illinois opened tournament play with an 11-inning come from behind win over West Virginia, 4-3, then followed that up with a pair of seven-inning wins over Illinois, 4-1 and Louisville, 6-3. Illinois posted a 3-5 record on its Spring Trip to California, including a fourth-place finish at the Fresno State Pepsi/Johnny Quik Classic. Illinois dropped the first three games of the trip, including two at San Jose State and then the opener at the tournament before rebounding for three wins in a row to propel Illinois to the championship round where the team took fourth place.

    Nine Illini saw the first action of their careers during the season-opening weekend at Troy State, including four true freshmen. True freshman Chad Frk started at second all weekend and went 2-for-6 with his first career RBI. Other position players seeing their first action in an Illinois uniform were true freshmen Vince DiMaria and Andy Hilligoss and redshirt freshmen Joffre Colbert, Trevor Frederickson and Brian Raymond. Reilly Smith was the only true freshman to see action on the mound, throwing a scoreless seventh in game two, and redshirt freshman Tim Gorski and junior college transfer Josh Gold also saw their first action in an Illinois uniform.

    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.

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