Illini Travel to Penn State for Weekend Series

Willie Argo has a .487 average with a double, two triples, three home runs and 12 RBIs against Penn State in his career.
Willie Argo has a .487 average with a double, two triples, three home runs and 12 RBIs against Penn State in his career.

May 10, 2012

 Illinois (26-21, 9-9) at Penn State (24-24, 10-8)
 Game 1 Friday, May 11, 2012 | 5:05 p.m. CT
 Game 2 Saturday, May 12, 2012 | 1:05 p.m. CT
 Game 3 Sunday, May 13, 2012 | 11:05 a.m. CT
 Location Medlar Field at Lubrano Park (5,406) | University Park, Pa.
 Radio WDWS AM-1400 (PBP: Dave Loane; Analyst: Ben Taylor)
 Live Video Game 1 | Game 3
 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., 7-4, 3.79 ERA)
PSU: Joe Kurrasch (LHP, So., 3-2, 2.06 ERA)
 Game 2 Pitching  Matchup ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, Fr., 7-3, 4.94 ERA)
PSU: Steven Hill (RHP, Jr., 5-3, 3.54 ERA)
 Game 3 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Drasen Johnson (RHP, r-Fr., 1-0, 6.37 ERA)
PSU: John Walter (RHP, Jr., 1-7, 4.71 ERA)
 Series History Tied 25-25
 Last Season Penn State won series 2-1
 Streak Lost 2
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook
 Preview Interviews Coach Hartleb | Thomas Lindauer

Illinois Is...
...1st in the nation in double plays turned (63) (as of 5/7)
...1st in the nation in double plays turned per game (1.34)
...22nd in the nation in triples (18)
...34th in the nation in steals per game (1.53)
...22-5 when scoring 5 or more runs
...20-5 when allowing 4 or fewer runs
...17-5 when scoring first
...12-5 when scoring in the 1st inning
...26-2 when tied or ahead after the 6th inning
...20-3 when out-hitting its opponent
...4-1 in Friday road games
...averaging 6.1 runs per game
...averaging 9.6 hits per game

Illini Team Notes
• Illini Keep Streaking:
Illinois has been on a string of mini-streaks lately, as the Illini haven't won or lost a single game then had the opposite result in the next contest since March 18. That bodes well for Illinois' opener at Penn State on Friday because every time the Illini have snapped a losing streak since March 28, they have won at least three consecutive games.

• 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 (63) and double plays per game (1.34). 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 56 double plays, 14 more than Lindauer's second-place total of 42. Roper ranks fourth in the league (38).

• Defense Gets It Done: Illinois' defense has been solid for most of the season, ranking fourth in the Big Ten with a .972 fielding percentage and tying for the second-fewest errors (51) with Minnesota. In conference games, the Illini have picked it at a .981 rate, second-best in the league, and equaling the Gophers for the fewest errors (13) while turning the most double plays (26). The school record for fielding percentage for a season is .973, which was set by the 2011 squad.

• Staff Shows Improvement: Illinois' pitching staff has shown improvement in the first year under pitching coach Drew Dickinson and volunteer assistant Jason Anderson, posting a 4.77 ERA to this point. That's 0.20 lower than the final figure in 2011 and currently stands as the Illini's best team ERA since posting a 4.60 mark in 2005. Illinois also has greatly improved its hits-to-innings pitched ratio, which currently stands at 415 hits in 413 innings. A year ago, the Illini allowed 533 hits in 499 2/3 innings. The last time an Illinois team approached a 1:1 ratio in those categories was 2003, when the Illini had 454 hits in 423 1/3 innings.

• Leaving 'em Stranded: Three Illini pitchers 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 56 runners on base and allowing only 19 to score (.339). Muck has stranded 13-of-16 inherited runners, while Joyce is 11-for-20 and Johnson is 13-of-20. As a team, Illinois has stranded 61.5 percent of inherited runners (59-of-96).

• 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 .520 rate and are hitting .317 with runners in scoring position. But the Orange and Blue have run into some trouble getting innings started as they're hitting only .248 with the bases empty and reaching base when leading off an inning 34.4 percent of the time, compared to a .321 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 36 hits in 201 at bats (.179 average) with two outs in an inning. Ronnie Muck has forced opponents into 3-for-33 (.091) hitting with two outs, Matt Milroy is 7-for-43 (.163) as a reliever, Drasen Johnson is 5-for-26 (.192), Anthony Milazzo is 4-for-17 (.235) and Reid Roper is 0-for-9 out of the pen. Conversely, the Illini are hitting .282 with two outs and have 102 two-out RBIs, 40.6 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 .336 with two outs and 83 two-out RBIs. In their 19 losses, the Orange and Blue are hitting only .203 with 19 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. Last weekend, he also tied Kyle Hudson for Illinois' career steals record in Big Ten games (36). 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 96 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.

• Johnson Approaches Record: Junior starting pitcher Kevin Johnson has pitched 141 1/3 innings in Big Ten games in his three-year career to this point, just 10 innings shy of tying Brett Weber's Illinois record. Johnson has been Illinois' Friday starter the past two years and was the Illini's No. 2 pitcher as a freshman in 2010. He has made 22 career Big Ten starts with four complete games and his 89 career strikeouts in conference play rank sixth in school history.

• Kravetz Follows in Johnson's Footsteps: Freshman John Kravetz has followed in junior ace Kevin Johnson's path this season, with both pitchers sitting on seven wins for the year. Kravetz broke Illinois' record for wins by a freshman with his seventh victory against Northwestern on April 28. Johnson has pitched 76 innings with 39 strikeouts, while Kravetz has 74 2/3 and 37, 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 Head to Happy Valley for Second-Straight Year
After taking the week off from competition because of final exams, the Illini look to rebound from a series loss to Michigan State when they travel to University Park, Pa., to take on Penn State. It is the second-straight year that Illinois has visited the eastern-most school in the conference, the first time that has happened in the teams' 20-year series.

The Orange and Blue have scuffled recently, going 11-9 in their last 20 games and 12-11 since April 1. But Penn State has caught fire of late, going 15-5 in its last 20 games and 17-5 since April 1. That run, however, has been made possible by a schedule filled with below-average teams as Michigan, Iowa, Binghamton, Canisius, Pittsburgh and Bucknell all have RPI ratings over 184, and Mount St. Mary's is a non-Division I opponent. That accounts for 15 of PSU's last 21 games, but the Nittany Lions have represented themselves well the past two weekends, taking series from Ohio State and Minnesota, with the latter coming in Minneapolis.

The Nittany Lions have done it with pitching in the Big Ten, ranking fourth in the league in ERA in conference games (3.58). PSU ranks ninth in batting average (.259), eighth in runs (83) and hits (161), and ninth in fielding percentage (.963) in Big Ten games. Illinois ranks second in fielding percentage (.981), fourth in runs (96), sixth in average (.267), ninth in hits (160) and 11th in ERA (5.92) in ERA in Big Ten games.

Series History Against Penn State
Illinois' all-time series with the Nittany Lions is all-square at 25 apiece after PSU won the 2011 series in State College. The Illini took the opener of that three-game set, 7-6, after allowing the Lions to score six in the first inning. Illinois put together a methodical comeback, eventually scoring two in the seventh to tie and one in the ninth to forge ahead. But PSU grabbed a 3-1 win on Saturday and a 13-4 victory on Sunday to clinch the Big Ten-opening series a year ago.

Illinois and Penn State have faced each other in eight of the last 10 seasons, with the teams not playing a regular-season series in 2006 and 2007. The Nittany Lions hold a slim 12-11 margin in games played in State College but have won or split five of the six series that the teams have played there. PSU holds a 16-13 edge dating back to 2002, but the teams are 7-7 against each other in University Park, Pa., during that timeframe. And the Illini are 4-2 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, sweeping the 2009 series and losing the 2011 series.

 Series History against Penn State
 Year RecordSite
 2011 1-2State College
 2010 2-1Champaign
 2009 3-0State College
 2008 2-2Champaign
 2007 0-1Ann Arbor (Big Ten Tournament)
 2005 2-2State College
 2004 0-4Champaign
 2003 1-3State College
 2002 2-1Champaign
 2000 2-1Minneapolis (Big Ten Tournament)
 1998 1-1Champaign
 1997 1-3State College
 1996 1-2Champaign
 1996 1-0State College (Big Ten Tournament)
 1993 2-2State College
 1992 4-0Champaign

Big Ten Race Heats Up in Final 2 Weeks
Illinois enters the final two weeks of the regular season tied with Nebraska for seventh place with a 9-9 record in Big Ten play, but only two games behind second-place Indiana. While Purdue has virtually run away with the Big Ten title - the Boilers have a magic number of three to clinch a share of the championship and four to win it outright - the rest of the Big Ten Tournament picture is much less clear as nine other teams are mathematically alive for the six spots in the tournament. Below is a look at each team's remaining opponents as well as the two opponents that it doesn't face.

 Race for the Big Ten Tournament
 Team RecordRemainingComb. RecordNo-Plays
 Purdue 14-4MICH, @ Iowa13-23IND, MIN
 Indiana 11-7@ NU, OSU16-26MIN, PUR
 Michigan State 10-8Iowa, PSU17-19NEB, NU
 Minnesota 10-8@ NEB, @ ILL18-18IND, PUR
 Penn State 10-8ILL, @ MSU19-17NEB, NU
 Ohio State 11-10@ IND11-7Iowa, MICH
 Nebraska 9-9MINN, @ MICH16-20MSU, PSU
 Illinois 9-9@ PSU, MIN20-16Iowa, MICH
 Iowa 7-11@ MSU, PUR24-12ILL, OSU
 Michigan 6-12@ PUR, NEB23-13ILL, OSU