CHAMPAIGN — When Justin Parr’s 33-game hitting streak finally came to an end Sunday afternoon, it concluded not with a swing but with a patient, disciplined walk.
Illinois teammate Reid Roper, for one, was not surprised.
“I think Justin’s at-bats today were pretty much telling of how he’s handled the whole ... hit streak,” Roper said after Parr went 0 for 2 but contributed two walks to the Illini’s 5-4 Big Ten victory against Penn State at Illinois Field. “He’s been team-first always, and you could just see that with his at-bats. He wasn’t trying on a 3-0 count to extend his bat (out of the strike zone) and get a hit or anything.
“He was playing the game, staying within himself and putting the team first.”
When Parr’s team managed to overcome an early 4-0 deficit and complete a much-needed series sweep of the Nittany Lions, the senior center fielder was all smiles. Residing in seventh place when the weekend began, Illinois now finds itself in a two-way tie for fifth in the chase to get into the six-team Big Ten tournament. The Illini (31-15, 12-9 Big Ten) will play their final three games of the conference race at Minnesota — which is in a three-way tie for second place — starting Thursday.
“There really isn’t a part of me that’s disappointed or upset I didn’t get a hit,” Parr said. “I honestly at the end of the game was just psyched we won. I want to make the tournament.”
He’s already made history.
Parr’s hitting streak, which began on March 9 and was the longest in the NCAA this season, was a longer journey than any batter in the 133-year history of Illinois baseball ever had traveled. En route to shattering the previous school record of 25 straight games with a hit — set by Brandon Wikoff in 2007 — Parr racked up 17 multi-hit games and became the national leader in batting average.
“That streak is unbelievable,” Roper said. “I hate to see it end, but it’s something he can always remember and tell everybody about. Something cool.”
Based on Parr’s unassuming reaction to the streak — and throughout the streak — don’t expect the former Parkland College standout to bring up the topic himself.
“He’s not putting on a show to be humble. He really is that kind of guy,” said Illini left fielder and twin brother Jordan Parr. “And I think he’s been going out there trying to do the best he can to help our team win.”
Even without getting a hit, Parr did his part Sunday to get that job done.
Trailing 4-1 entering the seventh inning, Illinois sent eight batters to the plate and scored three times to tie it.
The score was 4-3 when Parr settled into the batter’s box with two outs and a runner on second. With first base open, Nittany Lions side-arming reliever Jack Anderson tried to tempt the left-handed batter to swing at something outside the strike zone. Parr wasn’t biting, taking a four-pitch walk.
“Most of the series, they haven’t really given me much to hit,” said Parr, who still managed to go 4 for 9 in the first two games and is hitting .430 for the season.
His walk did force Anderson to re-enter the strike zone, and the next Illini batter took advantage. Clean-up hitter Jordan Parr, who has batted right behind Justin in all but three games this season, lined a single to center to drive in Thomas
Lindauer from second with the tying run.
“That was a huge hit,” Justin Parr said. “I’ve said this a million times — it makes hitting a lot easier for me when you’ve got a guy like (Jordan) behind me. They walked me and he made them pay.”
In the eighth inning, it was Roper’s turn.
After David Kerian drew a leadoff walk, Penn State reliever Ian Parvin threw wildly past first base on a pickoff attempt. Kerian sprinted all the way to third and then scored the go-ahead run when Roper followed with a single to center.
When closer Bryan Roberts pitched a scoreless ninth, Illinois had its 12th come-from-behind victory of the season.
“We never got down or felt like we couldn’t do this thing because we have before all season,” Roper said.
What the Illini couldn’t do, however, was extend the eighth inning long enough to give Justin Parr one more shot at extending his hitting streak. For his part, Parr was more focused on keeping another streak alive — a third straight win against the Nittany Lions.
“This game especially and where we’re at (in the standings), we needed to win so if I was going to walk, I was going to walk,” he said. “I really didn’t care about the hit. And I didn’t even want another at-bat.
“At that point, I just wanted to win.”
At the plate
Illini first baseman David Kerian drew six walks in the series and scored three times following bases on balls. The sophomore tallied what proved to be the winning run Sunday after (you guessed it) walking to lead off the eighth.
On the mound
Bryan Roberts pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 14th career save, moving the fifth-year senior into a fourth-place tie on the all-time UI list.
In the field
Illini catcher Jason Goldstein threw out a base runner for the ninth time in Big Ten play when he caught Alex Farkes trying to swipe second in the fifth inning. Goldstein entered the day tied for the lead in conference-only games in caught-stealing throws.
Before the game, six Illini were honored on the field on Senior Day. Davis Hendrickson, Brandon Hohl, Kevin Johnson, Alex Lincoln, Justin Parr and Roberts each received a framed jersey with their uniform number.
Illinois’ quest to qualify for the six-team Big Ten tournament will be on the line when it visits Minnesota to conclude the regular season. The three-game series begins Thursday at 3:05 p.m., with the Big Ten Network airing the contest live.