Illini Host Spartans in Crucial Big Ten Series

Matt Milroy leads the Big Ten in opposing batting average in conference games (.189) and ranks seventh in ERA (1.89).
Matt Milroy leads the Big Ten in opposing batting average in conference games (.189) and ranks seventh in ERA (1.89).

May 3, 2012

Bleacher Bum Barbecue Commercial | 2011 Bleacher Bum Barbecue Highlights

 Michigan State (27-15, 8-7) at Illinois (25-19, 8-7)
 Game 1 Friday, May 4, 2012 | 6 p.m.
 Game 2 Saturday, May 5, 2012 | 3 p.m.
 Game 3 Sunday, May 6, 2012 | 1 p.m.
 Location Illinois Field (1,500) | Champaign, Ill.
 Radio WDWS AM-1400 (PBP: Dave Loane; Analyst: Loren Tate [Fri], Itch Jones [Saturday], Darrin Fletcher [Sun])
 Live Video Game 1 | Game 2
 Live Audio Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Gametracker Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
 Game Notes Illinois | Michigan State
 Game 1 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Kevin Johnson (RHP, Jr., 7-3, 3.15 ERA)
MSU: Tony Bucciferro (RHP, Sr., 3-3, 3.20 ERA)
 Game 2 Pitching  Matchup ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, Fr., 7-3, 4.79 ERA)
MSU: Andrew Waszak (RHP, Jr., 4-3, 2.13 ERA)
 Game 3 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Drasen Johnson (RHP, r-Fr., 1-0, 6.29 ERA)
MSU: David Garner (RHP, Jr., 3-3, 3.40 ERA)
 Series History Illinois leads 68-58
 Last Season Illinois won series 2-1 & won twice in Big Ten Tournament
 Streak Won 4
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook
 Preview Interviews Coach Hartleb | John Kravetz

Illinois Is...
...1st in the nation in double plays turned (57)
...1st in the nation in double plays turned per game (1.29)
...7-3 in its last 10 games
...16th in the nation in triples per game (0.42) (as of 4/30)
...31st in the nation in steals per game (1.58) (as of 4/30)
...21-3 when scoring 5 or more runs
...20-5 when allowing 4 or fewer runs
...16-3 when scoring first
...12-5 when scoring in the 1st inning
...25-1 when tied or ahead after the 6th inning
...20-2 when out-hitting its opponent
...averaging 6.0 runs per game
...averaging 9.6 hits per game

Illini Team Notes
• Illini Win 7 of Last 10:
The Orange and Blue have picked it up lately, winning seven of their last 10 games and three of their last four. Illinois has won its last two Big Ten series and are standing tied with Michigan State, Penn State and Nebraska. Last year, Illinois started Big Ten play 6-6 before putting together a remarkable 9-3 run over the second half of the season to share the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State. This year, the Illini started conference play 3-6 before going 5-1 the past two weekends.

• Hartleb Captures 200th Win: Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb nabbed his 200th career win when the Illini topped Illinois State, 7-5, on April 17. Hartleb currently ranks seventh on the Illinois all-time wins list with 203, three shy of tying Carl Lundgren's 209 career victories.

• 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 leads the nation in total double plays turned (57) and double plays per game (1.29). 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 seven of the Illini's twin killings and leads the Big Ten with 50 double plays, 12 more than Ohio State first baseman Josh Dezse's 38 in second place. Lindauer is third in the league (37) and Roper is sixth (33).

• Illini Offense Proves Consistent: Despite its recent struggles, the Illinois offense has been solid in 2012, averaging 6.0 runs and 9.6 hits per game. It has been a balanced attack, as seven regular starters have 40 or more hits and five have 30 or more runs. The Illini have scored five or more runs in 24 games and are 21-3 when reaching that threshold. Illinois has scored two or fewer runs only six times in 2012.

• Defense Gets It Done: Illinois' defense has been solid for most of the season and stellar of late, making only seven errors in the last 15 games to raise the team fielding percentage to .973, which ranks third in the Big Ten. In conference games, though, the Illini have picked it at a Big Ten-best .987 rate, committing only seven errors in 15 games while also sharing the league lead with Purdue at 20 double plays (PU has played 18 conference games). The school record for fielding percentage for a season is .973, which was set by the 2011 squad.

• Young Arms Show Promise: The Illini have been bolstered by a crew of young pitchers in 2012, as true-freshmen John Kravetz has been Illinois' No. 2 starter all season and Josh Ferry made his sixth start against Indiana State on April 24. In addition, two sophomores and one redshirt-freshman have been solid in relief with Luke Joyce (4.44 ERA, 24.1 IP), Ronnie Muck (4.05 ERA, 26.2 IP), and Reid Roper (1.00 ERA, 9 IP as a reliever) providing solid bullpen work.

• Pen Picks It Up: The Illinois bullpen was excellent in the month of April, posting a 2.57 ERA in 70 2/3 innings, striking out 74 and walking 31 while allowing only a .182 batting average. Matt Milroy was 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 22 2/3 innings in April, and Drasen Johnson was 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings of work. Ronnie Muck also pitched well, posting a 1.69 ERA with three saves and 17 strikeouts in 16 innings over 10 appearances.

• Leaving 'em Stranded: Three Illini relievers have shown an exceptional ability to strand inherited runners in 2012, with Drasen Johnson, Luke Joyce and Ronnie Muck taking over on the mound with 54 runners on base and allowing only 17 to score (.315). Muck has stranded 13-of-16 inherited runners, while Joyce is 11-for-18 and Johnson is 13-of-20. As a team, Illinois has stranded 63.7 percent of inherited runners (58-of-91).

• Offense is Solid...Once It Gets Going: The Illini are scoring a solid 6.0 runs per game through 44 games, largely thanks to the fact that Illinois hitters have advanced runners at a .521 rate and are hitting .327 with runners in scoring position. But the Orange and Blue have run into some trouble getting innings started as they're hitting only .243 with the bases empty and reaching base when leading off an inning 32.4 percent of the time, compared to a .328 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 .217 average in the situation. Illinois' bullpen has been even better, allowing only 35 hits in 194 at bats (.180 average) with two outs in an inning. Ronnie Muck has forced opponents into 3-for-32 (.094) hitting with two outs, Matt Milroy is 7-for-41 (.171) as a reliever, Drasen Johnson is 5-for-26 (.192), Anthony Milazzo is 4-for-17 (.235) and Reid Roper is 0-for-8 out of the pen. Conversely, the Illini are hitting .287 with two outs and have 97 two-out RBIs, 41.6 percent of their total RBIs.

• Rally on Two: Illinois' two-out hitting has been such a key that it could be seen as a predictor of success. In the Illini's 25 wins, they are hitting .338 with two outs and 81 two-out RBIs. In their 19 losses, the Orange and Blue are hitting only .206 with 16 two-out RBIs.

Illini Player Notes
• Argo Attacks Record Book:
Center fielder Willie Argo will leave Illinois with his named splashed across the record book. His most recent target was the career stolen bases record, which he broke at Illinois State on March 27 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.

• Argo Aims Higher: After breaking Illinois' career steals record, Argo has turned his sights to the Big Ten record book. He currently has 95 career steals, which ranks fifth in Big Ten history behind a third-place tie at 103 steals. His total marks the most career stolen bases by a Big Ten player since 1988, when Indiana's Mickey Morandini wrapped up his career with a conference-record 127 and Hoosier teammate Jeff Stout finished with 105 bags. While Morandini's record likely is out of reach, Argo could pass Stout for second place.

• Kravetz Follows in Johnson's Footsteps: Freshman John Kravetz has followed in junior ace Kevin Johnson's path this season, with the duo having identical 7-3 records. Johnson has pitched 71 1/3 innings and 38 strikeouts, while Kravetz has 67 2/3 and 33, respectively. The similarities go even farther as the pair hail from the same high school: Mount Carmel High School in suburban Chicago. No Illini pitcher has finished with more than eight wins since Brian Blomquist won 10 games in 2005.

Illini Host Spartans in Crucial Big Ten Series
Coming off consecutive Big Ten series victories - including a sweep at Northwestern last weekend - Illinois welcomes Michigan State to Illinois Field for a crucial conference series. The two teams are part of a four-team tie for fourth place in the Big Ten standings at 8-7 along with Nebraska and Penn State. After this weekend, the Illini travel to State College to face the Nittany Lions then host second-place Minnesota on the final weekend of the regular season.

Michigan State is fresh off a weekend series loss at Purdue last weekend, but the Spartans salvaged the final game of the series behind a complete-game shutout from sophomore starter David Garner on April 29. MSU has won Big Ten series against Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota while dropping three-game sets to Michigan and Purdue. The Spartans also have been clutch, going 3-1 in extra-inning games in conference play.

MSU's strength is on the mound, as all three starters and 11 of the 14 pitchers who have thrown this season have ERAs under 4.00. As a team, the Spartans have a sparkling 2.87 ERA that leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th nationally. MSU also is allowing opponents to hit only .239. That complements a solid Spartan offense that hits .297 as a team (third in the Big Ten) and averages 5.8 runs per game. MSU hasn't been quite as effective as the Illini at the plate, though, recording 40 more hits than Illinois but scoring 20 fewer runs. The Spartans also field well at a .971 fielding percentage, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

Series History Against Michigan State
Illinois leads the all-time series with the Spartans by a 68-58 margin but has been even better at home, holding a 40-24 advantage in games played in Champaign. Illinois won four of five meetings in 2011, taking two of three at Illinois Field and winning both matchups in the Big Ten Tournament. Last season's series served as a major turning point in Illinois' season, as the Illini dropped the opener, which was the first game of a doubleheader after Friday's game was rained out. But the Orange and Blue battled back to take the nightcap behind John Anderson's 81-pitch complete game and won Sunday's game 11-8 to earn the series victory. Illinois went on to win nine of its final 12 Big Ten games to share the Big Ten title with the Spartans before sweeping through the Big Ten Tournament in three games.

Illinois and Michigan State have faced each other in each of the past 13 seasons, with the Illini holding a 32-17 advantage in that span, including a 15-9 margin at home. Illinois last lost a home series to MSU in 2003, when the Spartans took two of three in a rain-shortened series.

This Weekend's Promotions
The Illinois-Michigan State series features a full slate of promotions, starting with the fourth-annual Bleacher Bum Barbecue on Friday. In addition to the usual free admission and parking at Illinois Field, the first 2,000 fans can enjoy a free meal consisting of a hot dog, chips and a bottled water. Kids can play on the inflatable games located in the grassy area down the first-base line and fireworks will cap the night following the game. National champion men gymnastics coach Justin Spring will throw out the first pitch and his team will conduct the seventh-inning stretch. On Saturday, fans can celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a build-your-own nacho station and $1 frozen strawberry and lemon chills. After the game, kids eighth grade and under can play wiffleball with the Fighting Illini players.

Sunday will feature the first Honor and Serve Day, where the Illini will honor the University of Illinois student veterans and everyone who has or is currently serving in the military by wearing special orange and blue camouflage jerseys provided by the Fighting Illini Dugout Club. The jerseys will be up for bid through a silent auction during the game with all the proceeds being donated to the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. Fans also can buy T-shirts featuring the orange and blue camouflage pattern throughout the weekend at Illinois Field and at Gameday Spirit locations in Champaign. Before the game, the colors will be presented by a Navy ROTC color guard for the singing Star Spangled Banner.

 Series History against Michigan State
 Year RecordSite
 2011 2-1Champaign
 2011 2-0Columbus, Ohio
(Big Ten Tournament)
 2010 1-2East Lansing
 2009 3-0Champaign
 2009 1-0Columbus, Ohio
(Big Ten Tournament)
 2008 3-1East Lansing
 2007 2-2Champaign
 2006 2-2East Lansing
 2005 3-1East Lansing
 2004 2-2Champaign
 2003 1-2Champaign
 2002 3-1East Lansing
 2001 1-2Champaign
 2000 3-1East Lansing
 1999 4-0Champaign
 1997 3-1Champaign
 1996 4-0Champaign
 1995 2-2East Lansing