Staff writer Jeff Huth previews the Illini's crucial weekend series.
TEAMS: Illinois (28-15, 9-9 Big Ten) vs. Penn State (12-31, 3-15 Big Ten).
SCHEDULE: 6:05 p.m. Friday; 1:05 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Illinois Field.
RADIO: WDWS 1400-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) with analysts Ben Taylor (Friday), Loren Tate (Saturday) and Jeff Huth (Sunday).
SERIES RECORD: Penn State leads 28-25.
LAST MEETING: Illinois was swept last season in a three-game series at Penn State, with two contests decided by one run and the other by two.
COACHES: Illinois — Dan Hartleb, eighth season (237-194, 109-99 Big Ten); Penn State — Robbie Wine, ninth season (221-238, 110-130 Big Ten).
TOP ILLINI HITTERS: CF Justin Parr (.434, 47 RBI, .626 slg. pct.); 1B David Kerian (.320, 34 RBI, 17-18 SB); LF Jordan Parr (.315, 38 RBI, 19-22 SB)
TOP NITTANY LIONS HITTERS: 2B Luis Montesinos (.291, 6 2B, 21 RBI); DH/C J.C. Coban (.287, 7 2B, 22 RBI); LF/DH James Coates (267, 16 RBI, 6-7 SB)
PROBABLE ILLINI STARTERS: LH Kevin Duchene (6-1, 3.10); RH Ryan Castellanos (2-1, 5.29); RH John Kravetz (4-1, 4.45)
PROBABLE NITTANY LIONS STARTERS: TBA; LH Greg Welsh (2-5, 4.14); RH Steven Hill (1-7, 3.72)
ILLINI UPDATE: Illinois plays its final home series of the season this weekend, hoping to rise above its current seventh-place spot in the Big Ten standings. With two conference series left — and a trip to current leader Minnesota next week — the Illini need to capitalize on this opportunity against last-place Penn State. ... Justin Parr will try to keep his school-record 31-game hitting streak alive. It’s the longest in the nation this season and has propelled him to the NCAA lead in batting average through Wednesday. The former Parkland College standout has a shot at the Big Ten-record 41-game hitting streak — set by Penn State’s Michael Campo in 2000 — if the Illini can qualify for the six-team conference tournament. Illinois has six regular season games remaining, and it’s possible for a team to play as many as seven times in the double-elimination Big Ten tournament. ... Parr’s streak began March 9 at Baylor with a 1-for-2 performance. During the streak, he’s had 16 multi-hit games. ... Because of his hot bat, Parr is in a chase of another kind. Barring a monumental collapse, the senior appears to be a cinch to become the 23rd player in program history to hit .400 in a season. His current batting average (.434) ties the ninth-highest single-season figure by an Illini. The last Illinois player to finish at .400 or better is current Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Lars Davis (.400 in 2007). ... For the second time in three weeks, No. 1 starter Kevin Johnson isn’t in the Illini rotation this weekend. The senior right-hander is being withheld due to soreness from a right forearm strain that also kept him off the mound for the April 26-28 series against Northwestern. UI coach Dan Hartleb indicated, however, there is no structural damage to the arm. Last Friday at Michigan State, Johnson lasted one inning after allowing six hits and six runs. ... Freshman left-hander Kevin Duchene is scheduled to start the series opener in Johnson’s place. Duchene has made eight starts, including two in the Big Ten. At 6-1, he’s tied for sixth in the league in wins. ... Minus Johnson, Hartleb has announced a starting rotation that includes a sophomore and two freshmen.
ABOUT THE NITTANY LIONS: One year after finishing third in the Big Ten, Penn State has hit hard times. From March 9 to April 6, the Nittany Lions endured a 13-game losing streak. And after opening the Big Ten race 0-9, Penn State is firmly in the conference cellar. In four of their six league series so far, the Nittany Lions have been swept. ... The difference between last season and this can’t be blamed on large-scale personnel losses to graduation or the draft. Penn State returned starters at five positions in the field as well as seven pitchers who appeared in at least 15 games in 2012. ... It’s been an across-the-board struggle for Robbie Wine’s team. Penn State ranks last in the Big Ten in batting average and fielding percentage and next to last in ERA. ... The Nittany Lions also are expected to be without regular Game 1 starter T.J. Jann due to injury. Although Jann is 1-5 with a 5.29 ERA, the redshirt sophomore right-hander has limited opponents to 41 hits in 491/3 innings.
DID YOU KNOW? Penn State junior pitcher Ian Parvin is a cousin of former Southern Cal and Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Kyle Williams.