Illini Open Home Slate Against Delta Devils

Davis Hendrickson is on fire of late, hitting .436 in the last 11 games, to raise his average 75 points.
Davis Hendrickson is on fire of late, hitting .436 in the last 11 games, to raise his average 75 points.

March 29, 2012

 Mississippi Valley State (6-20) at Illinois (12-10)
 Game 1 Friday, March 30, 2012 | 4 p.m.
 Game 2 Saturday, March 31, 2012 | 1 p.m.
 Game 3 Sunday, April 1, 2012 | Noon
 Location Illinois Field (1,500) | Champaign, Ill.
 Live Video Game 1: All-Access (Spencer Turkin & Max Tane) | Watch
Game 2: BTDN (Spencer Turkin & Max Tane) | Watch
Game 3: BTDN (Max Tane & Kyle Milnamow) | Watch
 Radio Illini Sports Network (PBP: Dave Loane; Analyst: Loren Tate [Fri], Scott Beatty & Pete Cappetta [Sat], Brian Moline & Lee Zerrusen [Sun])
 Live Audio Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Gametracker Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Game Notes Illinois
 Game 1 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Kevin Johnson (RHP, Jr., 4-1, 2.92 ERA)
 Game 2 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Josh Ferry (RHP, Fr., 1-1, 6.20 ERA)
 Game 3 Pitching  Matchup ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, Fr., 3-2, 5.70 ERA)
 Series History Teams have never met
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook
 Preview Interviews Coach Hartleb | Brandon Hohl

Illinois Is...
...4-0 in its last 4 home openers
...averaging 6.3 runs per game
...averaging 9.9 hits per game
...4th in the nation in double plays turned per game (1.3)
...3-0 in night games
...11-4 when scoring 4 or more runs
...11-3 when allowing 6 or fewer runs
...9-3 when scoring first
...12-0 when leading after the 6th inning
...10-2 when out-hitting its opponent

Illini Line Drives
• Argo Attacks Record Book:
Center fielder Willie Argo will leave Illinois with his named splashed all over the record book. His most recent target was the career stolen bases record, which he broke at Illinois State on Tuesday with his 84th career steal. That passed Todd Schmitke's previous record of 83, which had stood since 1982, a span of 30 years. The Davenport, Iowa, native 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.

• Johnson Silences Opposing Bats: Illinois' No. 1 starter, Kevin Johnson, has stymied opponents early in 2012, allowing only 12 earned runs in 37 innings for an ERA of 2.92. Johnson has won four consecutive starts, the first time an Illini pitcher has done that since Kevin Manson in 2008.

• 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 9.8 hits per game. It has been a balanced attack, as five regular starters have 24 or more hits and seven have 15 or more runs.

• Young Arms Show Promise: The Illini have been bolstered by a crew of young pitchers in 2012, as true-freshmen John Kravetz and Josh Ferry made up two-thirds of Illinois' starting rotation at Nebraska last weekend. In addition, one sophomore and one redshirt-freshman have been solid in relief with Luke Joyce (3.60 ERA, 15.0 IP), and Reid Roper (1.93 ERA, 4.2 IP) providing solid bullpen work.

• 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 24 runners on base and allowing only three to score (.125). Johnson has stranded 11-of-13 inherited runners, while Muck is 8-for-9 and Roper is 2-for-2. As a team, Illinois has stranded 65.5 percent of inherited runners (38-of-58).

• Offense is Solid...Once It Gets Going: The Illini are scoring a respectable 6.3 runs per game through 22 games, largely thanks to the fact that Illinois hitters have advanced runners at a .530 rate and are hitting .339 with runners in scoring position. But the Orange and Blue have run into some trouble getting innings started as they're hitting only .252 with the bases empty and reaching base when leading off an inning 30.9 percent of the time, compared to a .331 average with runners on base.

• Two Down, None to Go: Illini pitchers have been highly successful with two outs in an inning, holding opponents to a .225 average in the situation. Illinois' bullpen has been even better, allowing only 17 hits in 93 at bats (.183 average) with two outs in an inning. Drasen Johnson has forced opponents into 1-for-9 (.111) hitting with two outs, Ronnie Muck is 3-for-14 (.214), Luke Joyce is 4-for-17 (.235) and Bryan Roberts is 0-for-2 and Reid Roper is 0-for-3 to lead the relievers. Conversely, the Illini are hitting .282 with two outs and have 48 two-out RBIs.

• 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 fourth in the nation in double plays per game with 1.3 (through last weekend's games). 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 two of the Illini's twin killings and leads the Big Ten with 25 double plays.

• Johnson Returns to Form: Junior pitcher Kevin Johnson has returned to the form the Illini became used to over the first half of 2011 in Illinois' last four weekends, allowing only five earned runs over 30 innings (1.50 ERA). He tossed seven shutout innings vs. St. John, then allowed one run in a complete-game four-hitter at No. 18 Oregon on March 9. He gave up one earned run in seven innings at Southern Illinois and allowed three earned runs in seven innings at Nebraska. It is the first time since 2008 that an Illini pitcher has won four consecutive starts, when Kevin Manson accomplished the feat from April 19-May 9.

Illinois Steps Out of Conference to Host Delta Devils
Illinois hosts Mississippi Valley State this weekend, stepping out of conference action after opening the Big Ten schedule at Nebraska last weekend. The non-conference series in the middle of the Big Ten series is a new feature of the league schedule in 2012 that is a result of having 11 baseball-playing members. Each week, at least one school will be idle from conference play and has filled that weekend with a non-conference opponent.

This weekend marks the fourth time this season that the Illini have faced an opponent for the first time in school history as they have never played MVSU. Illinois rebounded from its first three-game skid of the season by beating Bradley, 6-3, on Wednesday, and has won eight of its last 13 games. The Illini have won four straight home openers and six of their last seven.

The Delta Devils have struggled to start 2012, posting a 6-20 mark to this point after dropping both games of a two-game mid-week series at Tennessee. MVSU opened the season 0-9 but has played better lately, winning six of its last 17 games, including a 6-6 mark in Southwestern Athletic Conference games. Like Illinois, the Devils have played a tough schedule, facing Mississippi State and Kansas twice each, Southern Mississippi and Eastern Illinois. MVSU is hitting just .225 as a team, with only one regular player hitting over .300. The Devils have a .961 fielding percentage but hold a 6.28 team ERA among the seven pitchers who have taken the mound this season.

This Week's Promotions
The Illini boast a number of promotions throughout the 2012 season, starting with a baseball card giveaway this weekend. Cards for the freshmen and sophomores will be distributed this weekend in order to tie in with the newly released Virtual Dugout smartphone app (see following note). In addition, Illini fans can pick up their 2012 schedule magnet this weekend, while supplies last.

On Friday, fans can play baseball bingo during the game and can purchase a meal deal consisting of a hot dog, chips and a drink for $5. On Saturday, lemon and cherry frozen chill treats are just $1, and on Sunday, fans can buy nachos with cheese for only $2. Also on Sunday, the Illini will participate in the Illinois Field tradition of Wiffle Ball Sunday, where they will play wiffle ball with children eighth grade and under on the field following the game.

Virtual Dugout Smartphone App Hits App Store
This year, the Fighting Illini are partnering with the Journalism 460 course in the College of Media for the Virtual Dugout smartphone app. The independent study course consisting of students from the departments of journalism, advertising, art and design, electrical and computer engineering, statistics and computer science has designed and created the iOS and Android (not yet released) to enhance the fan experience at Illinois games this spring.

One of the most interesting features of the app is the ability to scan a player's baseball card (if it features the Aurasma "A" logo on the front) to start a short biographical video, with the card "coming alive" on the user's device. Other features include live statistics, updated season and career statistics and "Win Probability Mode," which displays the effect of each play on the chance of an Illini victory.

Users of iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) can download Virtual Dugout from the App Store. The app will be released soon on the Android Market.