CHAMPAIGN — When Justin Parr came through with a history-making hit Saturday at a rain-soaked Illinois Field, it was his swift legs — and not his sweet swing — that got the job done.
With a modestly struck infield single during the third inning of a 12-3 victory against Northwestern, the senior center fielder became the first player in 133 years of University of Illinois baseball to hit safely in 26 straight games.
“That’s not the ideal way,” Parr said after breaking the previous school record of 25 games in a row that he shared for one day with Ryan Snowden. “I didn’t hit it well, but I knew I was going to beat it out just because of where it was on the infield.
“It took a lot of pressure off, and it felt good. It was something I was really happy about.”
If Parr was feeling he hadn’t exactly done this record-breaking feat justice with his historic hit, that sentiment became moot in the eighth inning. Coming to the plate with one out and two runners aboard, the left-handed- hitting Parr sent a 2-0 pitch from Wildcats reliever Ethan Bramschreiber soaring over the left-field fence for his fifth home run of the season, putting a worthy exclamation point on his big day.
“I felt a lot better after I hit that last ball out,” Parr said. “(An infield single is) not the way you want to do anything (for a record). But at the same time ... I try to use my speed as much as possible in the game and get hits off that ... so that’s just part of my game.”
Whatever the method, Parr — who ranks among the nation’s leaders with a .427 batting average — has his teammates marveling at his prowess at the plate.
“It’s incredible,” Illini winning pitcher John Kravetz (4-1) said. “Probably the best hitter I’ve ever seen in person and had a chance to play with. He’s something else.”
As the streak built in the high teens, it became a focal point of each Illini game. Would it continue? Did he extend it?
“He did a very good job of handling all the different pressures and all the media attention,” said UI coach Dan Hartleb, who also had a dugout view of Snowden’s march into the record book in 2007. “Some guys would just go swing at pitches just to try to put the ball in play, and he’s been very patient at the plate, which is why he was able to break it.”
This was not a new experience for Parr, however. Last summer, while playing for the Rochester (Minn.) Honkers of the Northwoods League, he hit safely in his final 24 games to shatter the previous team record of 19 in a row.
“So I was kind of used to it from that,” Parr said. “I feel like I handle the pressure pretty well.”
While Parr was extending one streak, Kravetz was halting another to help Illinois (25-13, 7-7 Big Ten) even the series. Winless in his last three Big Ten starts, the sophomore right-hander held the Wildcats to three runs — two earned — in seven innings. Kravetz’s reward was his first victory since March 30.
“It was a big start for me for sure,” he said. “The past three weeks haven’t gone exactly how I wanted it to. ... I just wanted to simplify it today, and it worked out, Hopefully, (I) keep it up.”
In this case, simplifying meant relying on his fastball to get ahead in the count before going to his other pitches. Although Kravetz gave up 10 hits, he kept Northwestern (18-16, 7-10) at bay with seven strikeouts, only one walk and the help of three double plays.
“I was throwing a ton of breaking balls (before), not doing what’s me,” he said. “I just wanted to get back to pounding the zone and challenging the hitters and make them beat me.”
AT THE PLATE
Illini second baseman Reid Roper, who entered the weekend with one double in his previous 13 games, hit his second and third two-baggers of the series. The redshirt sophomore now has nine doubles, tying his career single-season high.
ON THE MOUND
It required escaping a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, but Illini reliever Andrew Mamlic pitched two scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.00. The redshirt freshman right-hander, who has thrown nine innings, is unscored upon in five of his six appearances.
ON THE BASES
After singling with the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Illini batter Jordan Parr ended up circling the bases on the play with the help of a two-base fielding error by left fielder Walker Moses and a throwing error by shortstop Trevor Stevens. The four-run play put Illinois ahead 8-1.
IN THE FIELD
Northwestern finished with five errors, its second most of the season and the sixth time this year it has committed at least four. The Wildcats, who entered ranked ninth in the Big Ten in fielding percentage, were guilty of seven errors March 31 at Nebraska.
Freshman Ryan Castellanos (2-1, 5.20 ERA) is scheduled to start for Illinois in today’s 1:05 p.m. series finale against redshirt senior Zach Morton (3-2, 1.98). The Illini will wear special stars and stripes jerseys, which will be auctioned off during the game, for their second annual Honor and Serve Day game.