Our beat writer takes a look at this weekend's series in State College, Pa.
TEAMS: Illinois (18-14, 6-3 Big Ten) vs. Penn State (17-16, 5-3 Big Ten).
SCHEDULE: 5:30 p.m. Friday; 1 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, State College, Pa.
RADIO: WDWS 1400-AM; Dave Loane (play-by-play) and Matt Wille (analyst).
TV: BTN will carry Sunday’s game live; Eric Collins (play-by-play) and former Iowa coach Jack Dahm (analyst).
SERIES RECORD: Tied 28-28. LAST MEETING: The Illini won all three games of a series last May at Illinois Field to remain in the hunt for a Big Ten tournament berth. Illinois capped the sweep with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory, Reid Roper producing a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning.
Coaches: Illinois — Dan Hartleb, ninth season (262-213, 119-104 Big Ten); Penn State — Rob Cooper, first season (17-16, 5-3 Big Ten).
TOP ILLINI HITTERS: C Jason Goldstein (.377, 7 2B, .472 slg. pct.); CF Will Krug (.331, 13-18 SB); 1B David Kerian (.314, 8 2B, 19 RBI).
TOP NITTANY LIONS HITTERS: CF Steve Snyder (.374, 14 RBI, .459 on-base pct.); LF James Coates (.276, 23 BB); DH Greg Guers (.266, 8 2B, 19 RBI)
PROBABLE ILLINI STARTERS: RH Drasen Johnson (4-4, 2.40 ERA); RH John Kravetz (3-1, 3.05); RH Ryan Castellanos (3-2, 4.41).
PROBABLE NITTANY LIONS STARTERS: LH Tim Dunn (2-0, 1.50; RH T.J. Jann (1-5, 3.78); TBA.
SETTING THE SCENE: Since winning a season-high six games in a row, the Illini have lost their last three, matching their longest slump of the year. Despite going 1-2 against Michigan last weekend, Illinois enters this series in third place in the Big Ten. ... Penn State is the front-runner for biggest surprise team in the conference. One season after losing 20 of 24 league games — and costing coach Robbie Wine his job — the Nittany Lions are thriving under Rob Cooper. They’ve already won three more games than all of last season. ... Like Illinois, Penn State has taken advantage of a favorable early Big Ten schedule. Each has faced the current bottom two teams in the standings. Illinois went 5-1 against Purdue and Northwestern. The Nittany Lions were 4-1 against the same opponents, with a game against Northwestern canceled due to weather. ... Penn State has yet to lose in eight home games, but some context is necessary. Besides one win versus 18-15 West Virginia, the visitors the Nittany Lions defeated were New York Institute of Technology (Division I in baseball, Division II in all other sports), Bucknell, Youngstown State and Northwestern. ... Illini shortstop Adam Walton, he of the 0-for-20 start at the plate this season, will take a 14-game hitting streak into the series. It’s the program’s longest since former UI shortstop Thomas Lindauer hit safely in his final 18 games last season. ... After batting ninth in the order in his previous 15 games, Walton was moved up to the No. 2 spot Tuesday at Illinois State and responded with a 3-for-5, one-RBI performance. ... Illinois has altered the order of its probable rotation. Johnson remains the Game 1 starter, but Kravetz moves up to Game 2 and Castellanos drops down to Game 3. Castellanos failed to make it out of the first inning in his start last Saturday against Michigan. Kravetz has a 1.64 ERA in his last three starts. ... Penn State center fielder Steve Snyder ranks third in the Big Ten in batting average (.374) and is tied for second in hits (46) with, among others, Illini center fielder Will Krug.
DID YOU KNOW? The father of Penn State senior outfielder Sam August — Steven August — formerly served as assistant general manager and director of Major League Baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox.