Casey at the Bat: Fletcher garners another Big Ten Player of the Week honor

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A friend of mine observed to me, “Casey Fletcher just doesn’t seem to ever get fooled by a pitch”.  He probably shouldn’t.  He had a good teacher in his father, legendary Illini and former MLB player Darrin Fletcher. 

Well, Casey Fletcher wasn’t fooled much this past week.  He helped himself to the Big Ten Co-Player of the Week award.  He hit a cool .500 scoring five runs and driving home three more.  His offense helped the Illini to a 4-0 record extending their win record to 17 straight games. 

This isn’t a new thing for Casey, either.  He’s leading the Illini in hitting with a nifty .350 average and is tied for the team lead in runs with 38.  More importantly, Casey has a penchant for the big hit, the clutch rbi.  You can see it on his face when Illinois scores the key run. 

It’s the second time Fletcher has been named as Big Ten Player of the Week.  He received the honor one year ago when he also received the Louisville Slugger Player of the Week. 

Congrats, Casey! 


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Poll Watch: Perfect Game ranks Illini at #6!

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Everyone’s on board.  After a 4-0 week, all major polls have ranked Illinois baseball in the single digits.  In fact, the Illini are ranked no lower than #8 and Perfect Game has them as high as #6.  Of note, they also have a photo of Illini starter Kevin Duchene headlining their poll this week, too!

Illinois’ 4-0 week included a three-game sweep of Penn State which gives them a 13-1 Big Ten record, good for first place.  Illinois currently has a 17-game winning streak and four consecutive Big Ten sweeps. 

Take a look at where Illinois is ranked this week: 

 

National Poll

Illinois’ Ranking

Previous Ranking

NCBWA

8th

10th

Perfect Game

6th

9th

D1Baseball.com

8th

9th

Collegiate Baseball

8th

13th

Baseball America

8th

9th

USA Today Coaches’ Poll

7th

8th

 

Other Big Ten teams ranked: 

  • Maryland (30-13) is ranked #23 by NCBWA, #20 by PG, #20 by D1B, #24 by CBB, #21 by BA and #21 by USAT
  • Iowa (30-11) is ranked #24 by NCBWA, #20 by PG, #15 by CBB, #16 by BA and #19 by USAT
  • Ohio State (31-10) enters the polling this week.  They are ranked #26 by NCWBA, #24 by PG, #25 by D1B, #23 by CBB, #25 by BA, #25 by USAT

Nebraska (30-16) fell out of favor with the pollsters after getting swept by the Hawkeyes. 

 

Other notables:

LSU (37-7 and 3-1 week) is still ranked #1 by all major polls. 

 

On Tuesday, Illinois plays their last midweek game of the season at Southern Illinois to attempt an undefeated April. 


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17 straight! Illinois finishes off Penn State for fourth straight Big Ten sweep

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Starter John Kravetz is now 4-0 for the Illini

The Illinois baseball team can add one one more Big Ten sweep to their 2015 accomplishments.  On Sunday, they won 6-3 against the Penn State Nittany Lions (13-25, 2-12 Big Ten) giving them their fourth conference sweep of the season. 

The win today puts #8 Illinois at 36-6-1 and 13-1 in the Big Ten, a full game ahead of Iowa in the conference standings

What was said

Coach Hartleb has been downright chipper in his post-game interviews lately:

It’s been a fun run.  Our guys have been doing such a great job of playing together as a team. It’s not one guy who has been carrying us. It is a group of guys who are getting their jobs done day after day. Nobody is being selfish and they get along so well. It has been a good group to be around.

Just how historical of a season is the Illini baseball team having?  The Illini have won 12 conference games in a row and have started the Big Ten season with a 13-1 record.  The only other time that has happened was in 1911 under Coach George Huff.  Yes, the the man that Huff Gym was named after.   

 

 

Game #43 / April 26, 2015    
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IMG_5133-001John Kravetz improved his record to 4-0 after spreading out nine hits through six innings.  He allowed three runs and two earned.  Interestingly, Kravetz neither walked nor struck out a Penn State batter today. 

The bulk of the offense today came in the second inning when Illinois batted around in the order and rallied for four runs.  Three singles by Casey Fletcher, David Kerian and Will Krug brought home a run.  One Ryne Roper walk later, Ryan Nagle drove home two with a base hit to center.  Reid Roper helped the cause with a rbi hit scoring his little brother. 

Fletcher scored again on a sac fly in the seventh inning.  In the ninth, Jason Goldstein added an insurance run with a solo homerun, his sixth homer of the year. 

All three relievers got the job done today.  J.D. Nielsen and Cody Sedlock combined for two scoreless innings after Kravetz left.  Nick Blackburn, an increasingly key component to the Illinois bullpen, earned his second save on a perfect ninth inning. 

 

 

Random Ramblings

Today’s date will go down as good day for Illini Athletics. Not only did Illinois Baseball complete its fourth sweep of 2015 and increase its winning streak to 17 games but Illinois Men’s Golf won the Big Ten Championship AND Illinois Men’s Tennis won the Big Ten Tournament.  Well done everyone! 

 

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Just yesterday, I mentioned minor league opponents and former Illini Thomas Lindauer and Ronnie Muck (seen above in their Illini days).  I pondered if they would be facing each other soon.  Well, they did, according to Steve Batterson of the Quad City Times….

…get him next time, Tom. 

 

Next up

On Tuesday, the Illini will try for 18 in a row (and an undefeated April!) against Southern Illinois University.  They will be playing in Carbondale.  Game time is 6pm.

Way to go, Illini!


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#8 Illinois win first two against Nits at Happy Valley

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Reid Roper has a team-leading 37 rbis

With a 10-1 blowout victory on Friday and a record setting 15-inning win on Saturday, #8 Illinois (35-6-1) baseball took the first two games at Medlar Field against Penn State to extend their winning streak to 16 games. 

With the win, Illinois keeps hold on first place in the Big Ten conference.  They have now won 10 games against conference opponents.  Their loss against Michigan State on March 29th was the last time they were defeated by a B1G team.  For that matter, it was the last time they were beaten by ANY team.

 

 

Game #41 / April 24, 2015    
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IMG_7891David Kerian and Reid Roper both drove home four rbis to spur the offense on Friday night.  Kerian’s rbis all came on one swing.  He hit a grand slam in the third inning to put the Illini up 6-1.  Roper’s dinger came in the sixth when he slammed a two-run shot to right field. 

Meanwhile, Kevin Duchene still manages to see his ERA dip.  In six innings, he gave up one unearned run on five hits and zero walks.  His ERA now stands at 0.74 to lead the Illini. 

 

 

 

 

Game #42 / April 25, 2015    
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IMG_6179Illinois baseball had a marathon session of their own during their contest with Penn State.  It took 15 innings but Illinois finally defeated them 4-2.  Tied 2-2, the Illini rallied in the top of the 15th inning.  With the bases loaded and one out, Penn State nailed Ryne Roper at the plate on a fielder’s choice giving the Nits some hope they could get out of the inning.  However, Casey Fletcher (3 for 6) came through with a rbi base hit scoring Ryan Nagle.  Penn State didn’t help themselves when a passed ball scored Reid Roper. 

Blackburn who pitched the 14th inning finished out the game and got his second win of the season.  He was perfect for two innings with three strikeouts. Starter Drasen Johnson put in a fantastic performance once again.  Like Duchene on Friday, he allowed just one run but it was unearned.  His ERA is down to 2.11. 

Tyler Jay saw his longest outing of the year when he lasted six innings.  He gave up a run on six hits and struck out seven.  Today was only the second game this season that Jay has allowed a run.  You’ll need a microscope to see his ERA too.  It’s at 0.78. 

Today’s 15-inning game is the longest game played in Coach Dan Hartleb’s tenure.

 

 

Random Ramblings

As of last Tuesday’s game against Eastern, I have over 1,200 photos from the 2015 season uploaded to the Illinois Baseball Report photo gallery.

With all the successes of this year’s team, I don’t want to forget some of our alums.  Last week, former Illini SS Thomas Lindauer hit his first homer for the Class A Quad City Bandits.  For his effort, he gets his photo in the local paper.   

At some point, Lindauer will be facing former Illini pitcher Ronnie Muck who is now pitching for the Burlington Bees also in the Midwest League. Muck is starting off right with the Bees.  He’s struck out 12 in 6 1/3 innings.   

Next up

The Illini will finish up against Penn State on Sunday.  It will be a 9am game so get up early if you want to watch or follow the game.  John Kravetz will be on hill for the good guys.

Way to go, Illini!


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#8 Illini take streak on the road to face Penn State

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Drasen Johnson will take the hill on Saturday vs the Nits

#8 ranked Illinois baseball takes their 14-game winning streak on the road.  For seven games, they will be on the road beginning with Penn State this Friday.  Read all about it in the Fighting Illini weekend preview.  The starting pitchers are the same with Kevin Duchene (6-1, 0.82 ERA), Drasen Johnson (6-2, 2.31) and John Kravetz (3-0, 2.91) taking the mound for Illinois.  However, the schedule is a bit different.  Most notably, Sunday’s game is scheduled to begin bright and early at 9am.

First place Illinois (33-6-1) is 10-1 in the Big Ten standings and hopes to distance themselves from second place Iowa (10-2) and Ohio State (9-3).  They also hope to keep alive the longest active winning streak in the country at 14 games.

 

Medlar Field at Lubrano Park
University Park, Pennsylvania

Fri. April 24

5:30 pm CT

Sat. April 25

1:00 pm CT

Sun. April 26

9:00 am CT

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Penn State Nittany Lions

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W-L: 13-23 Big Ten 2-9

My take on Penn State

The Nits have a 2-9 conference record on top of their 13-23 overall record.  Not only that, their team ERA (5.03) is easily double of the Illini’s (2.42).  So what’s the fuss?  The Lions have a formidable 9-4 success rate when playing at their home Medlar Field.  Penn State started out cold with an eight-game losing at the beginning of the season.  Since then, they almost played .500 ball (13-15).

As mentioned before,  Penn State pitching still doesn’t touch Illinois’ and they have one third the homers that Illini do (11 to 34).  Nothing is ever a cake walk but as long as the good guys keep an eye on the base runners (PSU is second in the B1G in steals with 57), they should be able to handle them.

 

Random Ramblings

With a home record of 17-2, Illinois Field has been good to the Illini.  They haven’t played too shabbily on the road either though with a 10-2-1 record.

With Illinois’ considerable success, there has been a lot of projections bandied about locally regarding earning national seed for the NCAA Tournament and hosting a Regional tournament.

D1Baseball put out this latest projection:

“Illinois, despite being a cold-weather team, actually has more quality wins than Arizona State — the Illini are 2-1 against the top 25, 8-3 against the top 50, and they’re only one spot behind ASU in the RPI rankings at No. 17. Both teams own a series win against Big 12 co-leader Oklahoma State, but Illinois did it on the road. For now, we gave the edge to a second national seed in the West, but the Illini are certainly nipping at ASU’s heels.”

At this point, the Illini are in line to host a Regional at this date per D1Baseball’s Field of 64 projections (as of April 22).

A big caveat from me:  These are all projections and “what-ifs” .  Many in the local media need to slow down and treat them as that.  A lot can change in four weekends, especially when two tough teams are on the schedule.  I’m a big believer of not counting your chickens before they hatch so take this as purely informational.  Personally, I’d like to see the Illini go out at win each game at a time.  Baseball politics can only mess with a player’s head.  Leave the baseball punditry to the pundits.  Let’s just see some good baseball.

IMG_5014Congratulations to Tyler Jay yet again!  He has been named to the Midseason NCBWA Stopper of the Year list.  Jay, who has a 0.68 ERA in 40 innings pitched, is one of 39 named to the list.

That’s not all.  Kevin Duchene joins Tyler Jay on the first watch list for the National Pitcher of the Year sponsored by the College Baseball Hall of Fame.  Duchene’s numbers are equally impressive.  He has a 6-1 record with a 0.82 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 55 innings.

Congrats and good luck to both Tyler and Kevin!

Finally, stop on by The Champaign Room to read their baseball news.  If you recognize the photo, it’s because IBR and TCR have partnered so that some of my photos will be featured along with their baseball coverage.

Good luck, Illini!!  


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Illinois get around to defeating EIU Panthers 10-1

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David Kerian now leads the team in HR (9) and hitting (.346)

The Illinois offense got off to a slow start but once they got cookin’ they couldn’t stop.  Hitless through four innings, the Illini caught fire with David Kerian’s ninth homerun of the season.  By the time the dust settled, Illinois defeated the Eastern Illinois Panthers 10-1 behind the strong pitching of starter Rob McDonnell who earned his fifth win of the season.

The win is the 14th in a row for the Illini, the best active streak in the nation.  At the 40 game mark, #9 Illinois is now 33-6-1.

Game #40 / April 21, 2015
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Rob McDonnell gets the win on Tuesday night

McDonnell pitched six innings of four-hit ball, striking out six Panthers.  With all the press that the starting pitchers and Tyler Jay get, McDonnell might not get as recognized.  As of tonight though, he is 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA.  Not only that, he’s struck out 52 batters in 55 1/3 innings.  Nick Blackburn got a scoreless inning in after McDonnell left the game.  And speaking of Tyler Jay, he put some work in too.  He finished the game with two shutout innings striking out three.  His ERA dips to 0.68 for the season.

The Illini packed in a lot of offense in four innings tonight.  Kerian’s homer in the fifth inning just got things started.  EIU pitching fell apart in the sixth inning when they walked in two runs.  In between, Casey Fletcher banged out a two-run single.

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Four hits and a Panther error contributed to four more Illinois runs in the eighth inning.  Kelly Norris-Jones drove home two with his first triple of the season.

 

Random Ramblings

Trying something different with the photos today.  Let me know what you think.  If you can’t see them correctly, you can always check them out at the IBR photo gallery.

 

Next up

The Illini will go on the road for a spell.  They travel to Penn State this weekend for a three game set.  Friday’s game is scheduled for 5:30pm CT.

Way to go, Illini!


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Poll Watch: Illinois makes the top ten in latest polls

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Illinois baseball has cracked the top ten! 

After another successful week on the diamond, Illinois has gone up in the polls, reaching as high as #8 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and #9 in the D1Baseball and Baseball America polls. 

The Illini went 4-0 in the past week.  That included a 2-0 sweep against Indiana who flirted with the national polls themselves earlier this season.  Off to their best start in school history with a 32-6-1 record, Illinois finds themselves alone at the top of the Big Ten standings.

Take a look at where Illinois is ranked this week: 

 

National Poll

Illinois’ Ranking

Previous Ranking

NCBWA

10th

12th

D1Baseball.com

9th

11th

Collegiate Baseball

13th

18th

Baseball America

9th

12th

USA Today Coaches’ Poll

8th

12th

 

Other Big Ten teams ranked: 

  • Maryland (27-11) is ranked #21 by NCBWA, #20 by D1B, #21 by CBB, #21 by BA and #18 by USAT
  • Iowa (26-11) is ranked #29 by NCBWA, #17 by CBB, #18 by BA and #21 by USAT
  • Nebraska (29-13) is ranked #26 by NCBWA

Other notables:

Missouri (26-14) is ranked #14 by D1B, #15 by CBB, #14 by BA, #23 by USAT and #30 by NCBWA

LSU (34-6) is now ranked #1 by all polls

Illinois takes in a midweek game at Illinois Field against Eastern Illinois on Tuesday then travels to Penn State this weekend for a three-game conference series. 


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Rainout! Illinois-Indiana game called after 4-hour delay

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Sunday’s game with the Indiana Hoosiers has been rained out.

Here’s an inside look at the coaches’ decision making process inside the Illinois Field clubhouse courtesy of Senior Associate Director of Athletics Mike Waddell via Twitter:

Today’s game was originally scheduled for noon then was moved up to 10am to hopefully avoid impending weather.  The rain came though and just didn’t let up.  After a four-hour delay, the coaches eventually decided to call it.  Today’s game will not be made up.

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Kyle Hudson and Shawn Roof: two Illini baseball legends talk shop during this morning’s rain delay

The cancellation gives Illinois baseball a two-game sweep over the Hoosiers for the weekend.  They have a 32-6-1 overall record and a 10-1 conference record which puts them atop of the Big Ten.

Illinois’ season will pick up on Tuesday with a 6pm midweek game at Illinois Field against Eastern Illinois.


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Clutch hitting by Illini takes down Hoosiers 6-3

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David Kerian bangs out a 2-run triple in the first inning

Saturday’s game versus Indiana was almost a mirror image of Friday’s.  Indiana scored in the top half of the first then Illinois responded in the bottom half of the first.  Illini pitching held and the offense bolstered the lead.  With another solid effort by starter Drasen Johnson, #11 Illinois (32-6-1) came out top 6-3, winning its 13th game in a row. 

This time, Indiana capitalized on some admittedly sloppy play in the field in the first.  Two errors led to two Hoosier runs giving them the lead.  Once again, it didn’t take long for the Illini to respond.  With two outs, Illinois put together a 4-run rally in the bottom of the inning.  After two walks and singles by Casey Fletcher and Pat McInerney, David Kerian’s triple capped the rally with a two-run triple. 

 

Game #39 / April 18, 2015    
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4 for 4 Pat McInerney touches home plate in the first inning rally

Illinois added to their 4-3 lead in the sixth inning.  Once again with two outs, Ryne Roper singled and Adam Walton walked and presto! they had another rally going.  Ryan Nagle came though with an rbi double to score Roper and Walton scored on a Hoosier error. 

 

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Meanwhile, starter Drasen Johnson was pitching strong.  In fact, Coach Hartleb was confident enough to let him complete the game.  Drasen has been a workhorse this year.  He now averages 7.4 IP per game.  On Saturday, he only allowed seven hits and just two earned runs while striking out six Hoosiers.  Typical Drasen, he only walked one batter today. 

Pat McInerney was hot today.  He went 4 for 4 and drove home a key run in the first inning and subsequently scored.  

 

 

Random Ramblings

Photos from today’s win are up in the IBR photo gallery.

There something different in the air at Illinois Field.  There are more people attending games.  Not only are people responding to the PA-induced chants but they’re starting their own.  I find myself high-fiving other Illini fans that I don’t even know.  It’s just that time of year in that kind of season. 

I’d love to be a fly on the proverbial wall during this friendly conversation that happened between at-bats between former Illini shortstop and current Indiana assistant coach Shawn Roof and David Kerian…

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Next up

The Illini will go for the sweep against Indiana on Sunday at Illinois Field.  The game is scheduled for noon but keep an eye on the Fighting Illini website or @IlliniBaseball on Twitter in case it gets re-scheduled due to impending weather.  John Kravetz is the probable starter for the Illini. 

Way to go, Illini!


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Friday fortitude: Duchene stymies Indiana 5-1

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Duchene climbs to 6-1 for 2015

Friday’s game started out auspiciously enough when Kevin Duchene hit Indiana’s leadoff batter in the first inning.  Two at-bats later, that run scored giving the Hoosiers a quick lead.  However, Illini leadoff man Adam Walton didn’t waste time getting back into the game.  He hit his the second pitch over the left field wall to tie it. 

The Hoosiers would not see home plate again after the first.  Duchene settled down and struck out nine batters in seven innings, walking just one.  He is now 6-1 for the year.  Illinois added plenty of offense to supplant Walton’s solo homer.  Jason Goldstein hit a game winning homer in the third inning, his fifth dinger of the year.  Illinois won by a score of 5-1 putting them at 31-6-1 and 9-1 in the conference. 

Friday’s win in front of the third largest crowd ever in school history (4,019) is Illinois’ twelfth in a row and remains the longest current winning streak in the country for the #11 team. 

 

Game #38 / April 17, 2015    
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Hearty congrats for Adam Walton from Reid Roper

To say Friday was an emotional day for Kevin Duchene would be an understatement.  That morning, he attended his grandmother’s funeral.  He then traveled to Champaign to pitch one of the biggest games yet this season.  I guess his off-inning in the first when he hit a batter and gave up two hits is understandable.  Kevin came through and pitched like a pro for the next six innings not giving another run.  He really showed some fortitude.  Cody Sedlock came in the eighth inning and pitched two scoreless innings to keep the Illini in the game. 

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Jason Goldstein’s HR in third puts Illinois ahead

Adam Walton’s leadoff homerun in the first to tie the game was a big boost for the Illini.  Two innings later when Jason Goldstein put Illinois ahead for good with his own solo homer to left. 

In the fourth, Will Krug showed some hustle and moved from first to third on a bad Indiana throw and then scored on a single by Ryne Roper.  An inning later, Casey Fletcher doubled home Reid Roper and later scored on Will Krug’s base hit. 

Friday night featured multi-hit games by Walton (2 for 5, HR), Goldstein (2 for 4, HR), Fletcher (3 for 4, 2B) and David Kerian (2 for 4).  Goldstein has now extended his hit streak to lucky 13.

 

 

Random Ramblings

Photos from Friday’s game are up in the IBR photo gallery.

The first few few photos in the gallery are of a player in red.  Don’t worry, he’s a familiar face.  That’s former Illini shortstop Shawn Roof who is now the assistant coach for the Hoosiers.  He and I caught up a bit before the game. 

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During the game, I pointed Roof out to some long-time local fans.  “That’s Shawn Roof?”, one said.  “You mean, THE ROOF! THE ROOF!?.”  Nobody forgets Shawn Roof. 

Much has been made of Illinois baseball’s comeback games of late.  I guess technically, Friday’s game is considered a comeback but it only took Adam Walton two pitches to take care of Indiana’s lead in the first. 

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Looks like they’re making more improvements to Illinois Field.  On the outfield walls, they have added the years to designate Illinois baseball successes.  On the left field wall (above), are the years the team has made the NCAA Regionals and on the right-center wall are the years Illinois has won the Big Ten Championship. 

Next up

Saturday’s game at Illinois Field against Indiana is at 3pm.  Look for Drasen Johnson on the mound. 

Way to go, Illini!


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