Illini Host Wildcats, Bleacher Bum Barbecue

Illini right fielder Craig Lutes leads the team with a .350 average in Big Ten games.
Illini right fielder Craig Lutes leads the team with a .350 average in Big Ten games.

April 29, 2010

Illinois-Northwestern Series Notes Get Acrobat Reader

Northwestern at Illinois
Illinois Field // Champaign, Ill.
April 30 // 6:05 pm // Big Ten Network
May 1 // 3:05 pm // Big Ten Network
May 2 // 3:05 pm // Big Ten Network

Series Insider
Northwestern (16-24, 7-5) at Illinois (19-18, 5-7)
All games on Big Ten Network (PBP: Brian Barnhart, Color: Jerry Kindall)
Live Stats: Gametracker on
Radio: WDWS AM-1400 (PBP: Dave Loane; Color: Loren Tate [Fri/Sat], Darrin Fletcher [Sun])
Live Audio: Available on
Series: Illinois leads 156-82
Games in Champaign: Illinois leads 85-27
Last Year: Illinois swept the series (5/1-3/09)
Streak: W5

Game 1 Starters
Francis Brooke (RHP, 4-3, 4.78 ERA)
Illinois: Lee Zerrusen (RHP, 2-3, 5.52 ERA)

Game 2 Starters
Eric Jokisch (LHP, 3-5, 4.88 ERA)
Illinois: Kevin Johnson (RHP, 3-2, 6.61 ERA)

Game 3 Starters
Zach Morton (RHP, 2-4, 7.20 ERA)
Illinois: Kevin Manson (RHP, 3-1, 4.03 ERA)

Illinois is...
...14-4 when scoring first
...11-4 when scoring in the first inning
...12-1 when leading after the seventh inning
...8-1 in one-run games
...15-2 when out-hitting its opponent
...13-3 when holding an opponent to 5 or fewer runs
...6-1 when wearing orange jerseys and pinstripe pants

Illini Line Drives
• Illini Break Out of Scoring Slump:
After averaging 3.3 runs per game over their last nine contests, the Illini scored eight runs against Bradley on April 27. It was the first time that Illinois had scored eight or more runs since scoring 10 against Eastern Illinois on April 13 - a span of nine games - after scoring eight or more runs 14 times in 26 games this season prior to the EIU contest.

• Consistency, Your Table is Ready: Since returning from Spring Trip on March 24, the Illini have struggled to find consistency, never winning more than three consecutive games or losing more than two in a row.

• Argo Attacks Record Book: Willie Argo, who hit the second-most home runs by a freshman in school history last year, already is approaching Illinois' single-season stolen bases record with 28 in 37 games. He currently ranks seventh on the list and the school record is 40 (see page 4).

• Argo Becomes Fastest to 100 Hits: Argo also reached 100 career hits on April 13 against Eastern Illinois in only his 269th career at bat, tying former Illini first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer as the fastest Illinois player to reach 100 hits (see page 4).

• Road Warriors: The Illini were road warriors from April 6-14, playing at Bradley on April 6, in St. Louis on April 7, at Iowa from April 9-11 and in Marion, Ill., on April 14. That comes to a total of 1,390 miles round-trip or approximately 22 hours of travel time. Illinois' 8-5 win over Bradley on Tuesday was only its 10th home game compared to 27 contests away from Illinois Field.

• Braun Brings it: Illini junior Wes Braun, who entered the year with a career ERA of 8.72, didn't give up an earned run in 11 1/3 innings over six appearances from April 7-23 before giving up one earned run on April 27 against Bradley. Braun allowed only 14 base runners and struck out eight during the streak, lowering his ERA 16 full runs from 19.29 to 3.29.

• Illini Are Repeat Offenders: The Fighting Illini have stolen 85 bases in 106 attempts so far this season, ranking 13th in the country in steals per game (through April 25 games). In addition, center fielder Willie Argo ranks 14th in steals per game with 0.72 per game.

• Argo Attacks Opponent Arms: Center fielder Willie Argo is showing his freshman season wasn't a fluke. He ranks second on the team in average (.343), on-base percentage (.442) and slugging percentage (518). He also has stolen 28-of-31 bases, being thrown out for the first time on April 4 against Penn State.

• Lutes Lives It Up: Senior right fielder Craig Lutes has enjoyed a strong final year, hitting .315 with 18 RBIs. He has been much more consistent this year than in the past, getting at least one hit in 24 of 37 games and having only three multiple-game hitless stretches, none longer than three games. Lutes already has surpassed career highs for RBIs and hits with 18 and 40, respectively, in 2010.

• Illini Earn Weekly Honors: Two Fighting Illini already have earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors, with Matt Dittman sharing the award with Indiana's Micah Johnson on March 15 and Willie Argo sharing the honor with Indiana's Alex Dickerson on March 29. Last year, Illinois earned Player or Pitcher of the Week honors a school-record seven times.

• Dittman Dominates Early Foes: Junior first baseman Matt Dittman started the season with a 3-for-4 effort and hasn't let up on opposing pitching, hitting at a .500 clip through 14 games. But he broke his right wrist against Southeastern on March 20 and likely will miss the remainder of the season after having surgery on April 16.

• Zerrusen Shifts Gears: Junior pitcher Lee Zerrusen entered the year as Illinois' closer, but after four appearances out of the pen, he moved into a starter role and has been solid. Zerrusen has pitched at least six innings in five of his seven starts and also has allowed three earned runs or fewer in five starts.

• Davis Shines Behind Dish: Sophomore catcher Adam Davis has started to prove himself behind the plate, guiding the Illini pitching staff to a 4.50 ERA with only 53 earned runs in the 106 innings that he has caught this season. Comparatively, primary backstop Aaron Johnson has a 6.83 ERA.

• R-O-B-E-R-T-S Spells Relief: Sophomore closer Bryan Roberts has thrived in the closer's role this year after being Illinois' Sunday starter as a freshman. Roberts leads the team and has the third-most saves in the Big Ten with seven, and is tied for the lead in conference games with four. Has is 7-for-7 in save chances, with four of them lasting more than one inning. He also recorded his first win of the year at EIU on April 21, pitching two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. He hasn't allowed a base runner in a save situation yet this year.

Illini Continue Longest Home-Stand with Big Ten Series Against Northwestern
Following an 8-5 win over Bradley on Tuesday, the Illini are looking to turn it up in the final half of the Big Ten season despite losing their last three conference series. Illinois stands only two games out of first place, where Northwestern is tied with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Illinois has won three of its last five games while the Wildcats have won six of their last seven after splitting a Wednesday doubleheader with Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Miller Park.

Illinois' current home-stand, a six-game stretch, includes Tuesday's win over Bradley, this weekend's three-game Big Ten series against Northwestern and next week's mid-week games against Southern Illinois and Evansville. All three games this weekend will be aired live on the Big Ten Network with Brian Barnhart and former Major Leaguer Jerry Kindall on the call.

This Weekend's Promotions
This weekend marks the biggest promotional weekend of the season for the Illini, highlighted by the second-annual Bleacher Bum Barbecue presented by WDWS, WHMS and the News-Gazette on Friday. That event features free admission for all fans and the first 1,000 fans will receive free food. First Federal Savings Bank will provide free T-shirts to the first 1,000 students and kids, and kids can play in the inflatable games. In addition, Olympic medal winner and Champaign native Katherine Reutter will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, with the ball being dropped in by a helicopter. The Illini volleyball team will sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the seventh-inning stretch and fans will be treated to a postgame fireworks display.

On Saturday, any children who have participated in Fighting Illini baseball camps can receive free admission by RSVPing to Kelly O'Neill prior to Saturday's game. Sunday's game will be highlighted by Little League Day, where Little League baseball players can wear their uniforms to Illinois Field and receive free admission. The ceremonial first pitch on Sunday will be thrown out by MIX 94.5 morning show personality Kevin Lambert and his son, Mitchell.

Illinois Against the Wildcats
The Illini lead the all-time series with Northwestern by a resounding 156-82 margin and hold an 85-27 series lead in games played in Champaign. Illinois has won the last three series between the teams, sweeping the three-game set in 2009 and winning three of four games in both 2007 and 2008 for a 9-2 record against NU in the last three years. In the last five years, Illinois is 14-5 against the Wildcats, with Northwestern winning only the 2006 series in Champaign. The Illini have won six of the last 10 series, with the Wildcats earning series wins in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.

Illini Finish Season Sweep of Bradley
Illinois swept the season series of Bradley with an 8-5 win over the Braves on April 27 after scoring three runs in the first inning and three more in the fourth. Willie Argo led off the first with a homer run, his first lead-off dinger of the year, and first baseman Mike Giller smacked a three-run homer in the fourth. Illinois added single runs in the third and fifth to go up 8-3 before giving up a pair of runs in the eighth inning. But closer Bryan Roberts slammed the door in the ninth with a perfect inning of work to record his seventh save of the year. Giller was 3-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs, falling a triple short of hitting for the cycle, and Casey McMurray went 3-for-4 with two runs.

* Complete game notes available in the above PDF