Illini Open Big Ten Play at Nebraska

Ace Kevin Johnson leads the Illini into Big Ten play this weekend when they face Nebraska in Lincoln. Friday's game will be aired live on Big Ten Network.
Ace Kevin Johnson leads the Illini into Big Ten play this weekend when they face Nebraska in Lincoln. Friday's game will be aired live on Big Ten Network.

March 22, 2012

 Illinois (10-7) at Nebraska (15-8)
 Game 1 Friday, March 23, 2012 | 6:30 p.m.
 Game 2 Saturday, March 24, 2012 | 2 p.m.
 Game 3 Sunday, March 25, 2012 | 1 p.m.
 Location Hawks Field at Haymarket Park (8,486) | Lincoln, Neb.
 Buy Tickets NU Ticket Office
 Television Game 1: BTN (Tom Hart & Danan Hughes) | Watch
 Radio Illini Sports Network (Dave Loane & Mike Koon)
 Listen Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Gametracker Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Preview Interviews Coach Hartleb | Kevin Johnson
 Game Notes Illinois
 Statistics Illinois | Nebraska
 Game 1
 Pitching Matchup
ILL: Kevin Johnson (RHP, Jr., 3-1, 2.70 ERA)
NU: Tom Lemke (RHP, Jr., 2-1, 2.95 ERA)
 Game 2
 Pitching Matchup
ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, Fr., 3-0, 1.99 ERA)
NU: Jon Keller (RHP, So., 3-0, 3.72 ERA)
 Game 3
 Pitching Matchup
ILL: Josh Ferry (RHP, Fr., 1-0, 4.11 ERA)
NU: Zach Hirsch (LHP, So., 2-1, 5.46 ERA)
 Series History Illinois leads 3-0
 Last Meeting Illinois won 3-0 (5/9/1905)
 Streak Won 3
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook

Illinois Is...
...averaging 6.3 runs per game & allowing 4.8 rpg
...averaging 9.9 hits per game
...9th in the nation in double plays turned per game (1.24)
...hitting .378 with runners in scoring position
...averaging 2.0 earned runs allowed/game over last 10
...9-2 when scoring 4 or more runs
...9-3 when allowing 6 or fewer runs
...7-0 when scoring first
...6-1 when scoring in 1st inning
...10-0 when leading after the 6th inning
...8-1 when out-hitting its opponent

Illini Line Drives
• Illini Help Harrisburg:
On March 14, the Fighting Illini raised over $10,000, nearly 32,000 pounds of food and nearly $1,100 in retail gift cards for the victims of the tornado that ripped through Harrisburg, Ill., on Feb. 29. WCIA-3 TV broadcast live from Illinois Field throughout the fundraiser and a number of local businesses contributed to the drive. Harrisburg is home to Illinois' starting second baseman and closer Reid Roper. The team presented the donation to the Harrisburg Disaster Relief group on March 17, and toured some of the damaged area after playing Northern Illinois in Carbondale.

• Argo Attacks Record Book: Center fielder Willie Argo, likely will leave Illinois with his named splashed all over the record book. His current target is the career stolen bases record, which Todd Schmitke currently holds with 83. Argo has 81 after stealing two bases last weekend. He also holds Illinois' single-season steals record with 41 in 2010 and hit the second-most home runs by a freshman with 12 in 2009. See page five for a list of records to watch.

• Illini Offense Starts Hot: Despite losing nearly 60 percent of its runs scored from 2011, the Illinois offense has started strong in 2012, averaging 6.3 runs and 9.9 hits per game. It has been a balanced attack, as seven regular starters have 16 or more hits and 11 or more runs.

• Johnson, Kravetz Silence Opposing Bats: Illinois' top two starters, Kevin Johnson and John Kravetz, have stymied opponents early in 2012, allowing only 16 earned runs in 61 2/3 innings for an ERA of 2.34. They have been especially dominant the last two weeks, with Johnson allowing two earned runs over 16 innings and Kravetz giving up only three earned runs over 15 2/3 innings.

• Leaving 'em Stranded: Three Illini relievers have shown an exceptional ability to strand inherited runners early in 2012, with Drasen Johnson, Ronnie Muck and Reid Roper taking over on the mound with 18 runners on base and allowing only one to score (.056). Johnson has stranded 7-of-8 inherited runners, while Muck is 8-for-8 and Roper is 2-for-2. As a team, Illinois has stranded 71 percent of inherited runners (29-of-41).

• Take 2, They're Small: Despite having a pair of new starters up the middle in shortstop Thomas Lindauer and second baseman Reid Roper, Illinois ranks ninth in the nation in double plays per game with 1.24. An interesting twist on the Lindauer/Roper combination is that they both are taking courses in American Sign Language and occasionally use it to communicate on the field. First baseman Jordan Parr has finished all but one of the Illini's twin killings and leads the Big Ten with 20 double plays.

• Bullpen Keeps Improving: While Illinois' bullpen has performed well all season, the Illini relievers were especially good last weekend against Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. In 9 2/3 innings of relief over the four games, the Illini pen allowed three runs, only one of which was earned. Ronnie Muck didn't allow an earned run in 2 1/3 innings of work over two appearances, while Luke Joyce gave up only one earned run in 3 1/3 innings. Reid Roper, Anthony Milazzo, Drasen Johnson and Bryan Roberts also contributed one shutout inning apiece.

Illinois Opens Big Ten Play at Conference Newcomer Nebraska
The Illini near the end of their season-opening 22-game road trip when they begin Big Ten play by facing the newest member of the league, Nebraska, in Lincoln. Illinois is 19-5 in Big Ten openers since 1988, when divisional play was abandoned, and 58-34 (.630) in opening-weekend series since 1998. Under head coach Dan Hartleb, the Illini are 5-1 in conference openers and 13-8 in Big Ten-opening series. Illinois has won six of its last seven Big Ten openers and 16 of its last 21 since 1991, the year that Hartleb and former head coach Richard "Itch" Jones took the helm in Champaign. When the Illini lost the opening series at Penn State last year, it was the first time that Illinois had lost the first Big Ten series since 2004.

Illinois and Nebraska both have been playing well of late, with Illinois winning nine of its last 12 games and the Huskers taking six of their last eight and 15 of their last 20 after an 0-3 start. Nebraska and Illinois have played two common opponents in Gonzaga and West Virginia, with the Zags going 3-0 against NU and 2-0 against the Illini. Illinois beat West Virginia 14-3 on March 11, but the Mountaineers took a 4-1 victory over the Huskers a week earlier.

Nebraska is statistically one of the best offensive teams in the Big Ten, leading the league in hits (270), runs (185), doubles (50), home runs (24) and on-base percentage (.412) while ranking second in batting average (.330) through Wednesday's games. The story changes a bit on the mound, though, as the Huskers rank fourth in the Big Ten in strikeouts (132), fifth in ERA (3.89), seventh in runs allowed (102), eighth in walks allowed (77) and 11th in hits allowed (231). Those raw numbers are a bit skewed, though, because Nebraska has played 23 games compared to between 17 and 20 games for many other conference teams.

Illini All-time Against Nebraska
Illinois and Nebraska have an extremely short history and one that happened more than 100 years ago. The Illini hold a 3-0 edge in the all-time series but the teams haven't met in 107 years, with Illinois taking a 3-0 win on May 9, 1905, in Urbana in the last game between the schools. The Illini also won 16-9 in 1897 and 7-3 in 1903. The games in 1903 and 1905 are in question, though, because Nebraska does not have record of them and did not field a varsity squad in 1903.

Complete Illini Coverage in 2012
The Fighting Illini will enjoy a wealth of coverage in 2012 thanks to an expanded schedule by the Big Ten Network and on Illinois will appear on the Big Ten Network four times and will have four more games streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network (BTDN) at's All-Access player will carry another 13 games, meaning that all but one home game will have live video. The full schedule can be found on page 1 of game notes.

New this year, Illinois' All-Access service has become part of the BTDN, simplifying the user experience. Games are a paid service with four levels of pricing: BTDN Annually ($119.95), School Annually ($79.95), BTDN Monthly ($14.95) and School Pass Monthly ($9.95). Sign up at The All-Access player also can be found at Subscription to the Illinois All-Access service also will provide fans access to live audio of Illini games where video is not provided.