Beat writer Jeff Huth breaks down the weekend series between the Big Ten teams.
TEAMS: Illinois (14-11, 2-1 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (4-19, 1-4 Big Ten).
SCHEDULE: 3 p.m. Friday; 1 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Rocky Miller Park, Evanston.
RADIO: WDWS 1400-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Matt Wille (analyst).
TV: BTN will carry Sunday’s game; Wayne Randazzo (play-by-play) and Danan Hughes (analyst).
SERIES RECORD: Illinois leads 163-87. LAST MEETING: The Illini won two of three games April 26-28, 2013, at Illinois Field, with Justin Parr extending his school-record hitting streak to 27 games in the finale.
Coaches: Illinois — Dan Hartleb, ninth season (258-210, 115-101 Big Ten); Northwestern — Paul Stevens, 27th season (641-786-6, 303-427-1 Big Ten).
TOP ILLINI HITTERS: C Jason Goldstein (.383 , 5 2B, .481 slg. pct.); LF Ryan Nagle (.341, 5 2B, 20 RBI); CF Will Krug (.312, 13-18 SB).
TOP WILDCATS HITTERS: RF Matt Hopfner (.368, 14 RBI, .425 slg. pct.); 3B-LF Joe Hoscheit (.277, 5 2B); SS Cody Stevens (.301, 4-6 SB).
PROBABLE ILLINI STARTERS: RH Drasen Johnson (2-4, 3.19 ERA); RH Ryan Castellanos (3-1, 3.33); RH John Kravetz (2-1, 4.07).
PROBABLE WILDCATS STARTERS: LH Dan Tyson (1-1, 5.57); LH Reed Mason (1-2, 5.45); RH Brandon Magallones (0-3, 5.34).
SETTING THE SCENE: The Illini have won six of their last seven games, their most successful stretch since a 6-1 run late in the 2013 regular season. ... Northwestern enters on a four-game losing streak — its fourth separate slump of four or more losses. However, some context is necessary; context that argues the Wildcats are far more competitive than their record suggests. Of NU’s 19 losses, six were by one run and three by two runs. The Wildcats opened the season by battling traditional power Southern California to a pair of one-run losses, in 11 and 15 innings. ... Illini pitching ace Kevin Duchene remains sidelined by a forearm strain. The sophomore left-hander continues to follow a rehabilitation exercise program but so far has been limited to playing catch once per week, according to UI pitching coach Drew Dickinson. Duchene (2-1, 1.70 ERA) last pitched March 14. When the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year is cleared to resume pitching, Dickinson said it initially will be in a limited-innings role as Duchene builds his arm back up for starting duty. ... Sunday’s original starting time was moved back one hour so that BTN could carry the game live. ... Entering the season, pitching was regarded as Illinois’ strength, and that projection is more than holding up. One year after recording the program’s lowest ERA (3.76) since 1976, the Illini staff checks in at 3.07 through 25 games. Only 2013 College World Series qualifier Indiana (2.67) has a lower ERA among Big Ten teams. ... After going 6 for 11 last weekend in a three-game series against Purdue, Illini shortstop Adam Walton has raised his average to .295. Considering the sophomore went hitless in his first 20 at-bats this season, it’s remarkable he’s even close to .300. During his current seven-game hitting streak, Walton is 13 for 24 (.542). ... Northwestern lost one of its top players, shortstop Kyle Ruchim, after just two games due to a lingering injury to his throwing arm. When rehabilitation failed to help, Ruchim opted for season-ending surgery. In 2013, Ruchim was an All-Big Ten third-team pick who ranked third in the conference in on-base percentage, fourth in batting average and fifth in slugging percentage. ... The Wildcats have a candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Matt Hopfner. The right fielder from Edina, Minn., ranks sixth in the league in
batting average and has a .411 on-base percentage.
DID YOU KNOW? Northwestern pitcher Reed Mason attended the same high school — Torrey Pines in San Diego — as Olympic snowboarder/skateboarder Shaun White, skateboarder Tony Hawk, former NFL safety John Lynch and former NBA center Chris Dudley.