Illini Host Gophers in Final Big Ten Series

Freshman starting pitcher John Kravetz is 3-0 with a 3.62 ERA in four starts at home this year.
Freshman starting pitcher John Kravetz is 3-0 with a 3.62 ERA in four starts at home this year.

May 16, 2012

 Minnesota (28-25, 10-11) at Illinois (26-24, 9-12)
 Game 1 Thursday, May 17, 2012 | 6:35 p.m.
 Game 2 Friday, May 18, 2012 | 6:05 p.m.
 Game 3 Saturday, May 19, 2012 | 12:05 p.m.
 Location Illinois Field (1,500) | Champaign, Ill.
 Radio WDWS AM-1400 (PBP: Dave Loane; Analyst: Loren Tate [Thurs], Itch Jones [Fri], Orion Buckingham [Sat])
 Live Video Game 1 | Game 2 | 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., 7-5, 3.64 ERA)
MINN: T.J. Oakes (RHP, Jr., 7-3, 1.94 ERA)
 Game 2 Pitching  Matchup ILL: John Kravetz (RHP, Fr., 7-3, 5.02 ERA)
MINN: D.J. Snelten (LHP, So., 4-3, 3.15 ERA)
 Game 3 Pitching  Matchup ILL: Drasen Johnson (RHP, r-Fr., 1-0, 5.66 ERA)
MINN: Austin Lubinsky (RHP, Sr., 3-4, 4.02 ERA)
 Series History Minnesota leads 103-94-1
 Last Meeting Illinois won series in 2009; Minnesota won 13-4 in 2009 Big Ten Tournament
 Streak Lost 2
 Social Media @IlliniBaseball   |  Facebook
 Preview Interview Coach Hartleb

Illinois Is...
...1st in the nation in double plays turned (66) (as of 5/14)
...1st in the nation in double plays turned per game (1.32)
...27th in the nation in triples (18)
...35th in the nation in steals per game (1.48)
...22-6 when scoring 5 or more runs
...20-7 when allowing 4 or fewer runs
...17-7 when scoring first
...25-1 when leading after the 6th inning
...20-4 when out-hitting its opponent
...10-6 at home

Illini Team Notes
• Illini Scuffling Lately:
Illinois has struggled a bit of late, losing five of its last six Big Ten games and six of its last seven overall. The Illini were swept at Penn State last weekend, losing twice by a single run and once by two runs. Illinois' lack of experience has shown in close games this year, as the Illini are 7-10 in games decided by one or two runs.

• 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 (66) and double plays per game (1.32). 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 59 double plays, 15 more than Ohio State first baseman Josh Dezse's second-place total of 44. Lindauer ranks third with 43 and Roper is fourth (41).

• 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 207, two shy of tying Carl Lundgren's 209 career victories.

• Defense Gets It Done: Illinois' defense has been solid for most of the season, ranking third in the Big Ten with a .972 fielding percentage and tying for the second-fewest errors (53) with Minnesota. In conference games, the Illini have picked it at a .981 rate, second-best in the league to Minnesota, and equaling the Gophers for the fewest errors (15) while turning the most double plays (29). 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 4.76 ERA to this point. That's 0.21 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 438 hits in 437 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.

• Illini Give Boys & Girls Club a Hand: As its second major fundraiser of the year, the Illini wore special orange-and-blue camouflage jerseys against Michigan State on May 6. The jerseys were auctioned off during the game, with the Fighting Illini Dugout Club donating over $5,000 to the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club of Champaign-Urbana. Special-edition T-shirts featuring a camouflage design are still being sold at Gameday Spirit locations in Champaign and at Illinois' final three home games, proceeds from those sales also being donated to the Boys and Girls Club.

• Two Down, None to Go: Illini pitchers have been highly successful with two outs in an inning, holding opponents to a .222 average in the situation. Illinois' bullpen has been even better, allowing only 37 hits in 206 at bats (.180 average) with two outs in an inning. Ronnie Muck has forced opponents into 3-for-33 (.091) hitting with two outs, Matt Milroy is 8-for-48 (.167) as a reliever, Drasen Johnson is 5-for-26 (.192) out of the pen, Anthony Milazzo is 4-for-17 (.235) and Reid Roper is 0-for-9 as a reliever. Conversely, the Illini are hitting .279 with two outs and have 103 two-out RBIs, 39.6 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 26 wins, they are hitting .336 with two outs and 83 two-out RBIs. In their 24 losses, the Orange and Blue are hitting only .206 with 20 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 broke Kyle Hudson's mark for Illinois' career steals in Big Ten games with his 37th swipe in Big Ten play. 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 97 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.

• Johnson Approaches Record: Junior starting pitcher Kevin Johnson has pitched 149 1/3 innings in Big Ten games in his three-year career to this point, just two 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 all 23 possible Big Ten starts in his career with five complete games and his 92 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 84 innings with 42 strikeouts, while Kravetz has 80 2/3 and 42, 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 Make Final Push for Postseason Against Gophers
The Orange and Blue return home after a rough road trip to State College in which the Illini were swept by Penn State to host Minnesota in the final regular-season series of 2012. Illinois stands in eighth place in the Big Ten standings with a 9-12 conference record and Minnesota is 10-11 in the league, good for seventh. Both teams are looking to leapfrog sixth-place Ohio State (10-11) for the final spot in next week's Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota has reached the postseason in each of the last three seasons and 13 of the last 14, while Illinois has qualified in six of the last seven years and won last year's tournament after sharing the 2011 Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State.

Minnesota is 28-25 on the season but has only played 14 games away from the friendly confines of the Metrodome and Target Field. The Gophers are only 2-9 in true road games and 1-8 in Big Ten road games, having been swept at Ohio State and Nebraska. However, all three games last weekend against the Huskers were decided by a single run. Minnesota is hitting .266 as a team, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten, and ranks sixth in both doubles and triples, while standing 10th in home runs with 10 dingers on the year. However, the Gophers have a 3.10 team ERA, which ranks third in the league, and a .975 fielding percentage, which ranks second.

In games against common Big Ten opponents, the Illini lost two of three at Nebraska and won a series against Ohio State, while Minnesota was swept by the Huskers and the Buckeyes. Both the Gophers and Illini swept Northwestern and lost series to Michigan State. Illinois was swept by Penn State, while Minnesota lost two of three.

Series History Against Minnesota
The Gophers hold a narrow 103-94-1 advantage all-time against Illinois, including a 47-44-1 lead in games played in Champaign. The teams haven't met since 2009, when Illinois won a series against the No. 23 Gophers in Champaign, winning the first two games before dropping the series finale. But Minnesota got the last laugh, ending the Illini's season with a 13-4 victory at the 2009 Big Ten Tournament after Illinois had split its first two games at the event. Only four Illini players have ever played in a game against the Gophers, as Willie Argo, Nick Chmielewski, Bryan Roberts and Will Strack were on the 2009 squad.

The Illini's series win in 2009 was their first over Minnesota in Champaign since 1991 as the Gophers hold a 22-11 edge in games in Champaign and a 5-1-2 series advantage during that time frame. Illinois has gone 21-16 in Minneapolis during that stretch and 1-6 at neutral sites.

 Series History against Minnesota (since 1991)
 Year RecordSite
 2009 2-1Champaign
 2009 0-1Columbus (Big Ten Tournament)
 2008 3-1Minneapolis
 2007 1-3Champaign
 2007 0-1Ann Arbor (Big Ten Tournament)
 2006 3-1Minneapolis
 2006 0-1Ann Arbor (Big Ten Tournament)
 2005 1-3Minneapolis
 2005 0-1Champaign (Big Ten Tournament)
 2004 1-3Champaign
 2003 2-2Champaign
 2002 2-1Minneapolis
 2001 0-1Columbus (Big Ten Tournament)
 1999 1-3Minneapolis
 1999 1-1Columbus (Big Ten Tournament)
 1998 2-2Champaign
 1998 0-1Champaign (Big Ten Tournament)
 1997 4-0Minneapolis
 1996 1-3Minneapolis
 1995 1-3Minneapolis
 1994 1-3Champaign
 1993 2-2Minneapolis
 1992 1-3Champaign
 1992 0-1Columbus (Big Ten Tournament)
 1991 2-2Minneapolis

Big Ten Race Goes Down to the Wire
Illinois enters the final week of the regular season in eighth place in the conference race, two games out of sixth. While Purdue has run away with the Big Ten title - the Boilers need only one victory to win the championship outright - the rest of the Big Ten Tournament picture is much less clear as eight other teams are mathematically alive for the remaining five 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 RecordRemainingOpp. RecordNo-Plays
 Purdue 16-5@ Iowa8-13IND, MIN
 Penn State 13-8@ MSU12-9NEB, NU
 Indiana 13-8OSU11-10MIN, PUR
 Michigan State 12-9PSU13-8NEB, NU
 Nebraska 12-9@ MICH7-14MSU, PSU
 Ohio State 11-10@ IND13-8Iowa, MICH
 Minnesota 10-11@ ILL9-12IND, PUR
 Illinois 9-12MIN10-11Iowa, MICH
 Iowa 8-13PUR16-5ILL, OSU

*Complete series notes available in the attached PDF file