Continuing to preview the Fullerton Regional leading up to the start of the NCAA baseball tournament on Friday, here's a closer look at the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Record: 28-25 RPI: 135
How They Got Here: After dropping the first game of a doubleheader to Michigan State on April 23, the Illini was 12-21 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten. Illinois rallied to a 5-2 win with four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning of the nightcap to salvage a split, end a four-game losing streak, and launch an improbable run to the NCAA Tournament. The Illini went 16-4 to end the season and is riding an eight-game winning streak, including three in the Big Ten Tournament to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Overview: Illinois is hot at the right time, which makes it a potentially dangerous team in Fullerton. The Illini raised their team batting average by 18 points over the last 19 games and the pitching staff, which was mediocre for much of the season (4.84 ERA), recorded a 2.00 ERA at the Big Ten tournament. Illinois opens the tournament on Friday against regional host Cal State Fullerton.
Players to Watch:
Willie Argo: The junior is hitting .286 with 4 home runs and 26 RBI. When Argo gets on base, which he's doing at a .397 clip, he's a threat to steal. After nabbing a school record 41 bases last season, he's 25-for-34 in stolen base attempts this season to lead the team.
- Kevin Johnson: The sophomore will start Friday's game against Cal State Fullerton. Johnson is 2-6 with a 4.33 ERA. Like the rest of the Illinois staff, he isn't a big strikeout pitcher, with only 67 strikeouts in 99 IP.
- Matt Dittman: After hitting two home runs in his first 47 games, Dittman has hit four home runs in his last six games to take over the team lead.
- Justin Parr: Parr, who won the Big Ten batting title with a .411 average in conference games, is hitting a team-best .333 overall with 25 runs and 30 RBI.
Notable: Illinois is making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years.