Baseball Faces Crucial Weekend at Illinois

    Go Hoosiers! Josh Phegley and his Hoosier teammates travel to Champaign this weekend for three games against the Fighting Illini.
    Go Hoosiers!
    Josh Phegley and his Hoosier teammates travel to Champaign this weekend for three games against the Fighting Illini.
    Go Hoosiers!

    April 2, 2009

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    Indiana at Illinois • April 3-5
    Illinois Field • Champaign, Ill.

    April 3 • 6:05 p.m. CT
    IU - LHP Blake Monar (2-2, 4.88) | ILL - LHP Phil Haig (3-0, 2.57)
    Game carried live on WHCC 105.1 FM
    GameTracker | Live Audio

    April 4 • 3:05 p.m. CT
    IU - RHP Eric Arnett (5-1, 2.45) | ILL - TBA
    GameTracker | Live Audio

    April 5 • 1:05 p.m. CT
    IU - LHP Matt Bashore (1-3, 6.53) | ILL - RHP Bryan Roberts (2-0, 5.84)
    GameTracker | Live Audio

    The Hoosiers face a pivotal three-game road series at first-place Illinois this weekend. IU is 10-15 on the season (1-1 Big Ten), but has amassed a three-game winning streak. The Fighting Illini have won five games in a row, including a three-game sweep of Michigan State in Champaign over the weekend. The Fighting Illini are currently ranked 26th nationally in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll.

    Illinois (17-5, 3-0) defeated SIU-Edwardsville on Wednesday, 7-6 in 10 innings, to improve its win streak to five. The Hoosiers won both their mid-week contests, topping Chicago State in a rain-shortened affair, 11-4, on Tuesday and blasting Cincinnati 16-4 on Wednesday. The two wins put Hoosier skipper Tracy Smith just one win away from 400 in his career, as he brings a career mark of 399-334-1 (.544) into the weekend.

    Indiana last met the Illini in the third game of last year's Big Ten Tournament. Josh Phegley led the way offensively for the Hoosiers, ripping Illinois pitching for a 4-for-4 game with two homers and six RBI, while Tyler Tufts was solid on the mound, tossing a complete game in a 14-7 Indiana victory. The sixth-seeded Hoosiers lost their first round game before going on a three-game tear, sending home Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State in the double-elimination tournament. IU is 67-100-1 all-time against the Illini, who won three of four games in the regular-season meeting between the teams last year.

    Indiana is in its fourth year under the direction of Tracy Smith. In his time at the helm of the Hoosiers, IU is 82-116. The 2008 season was a significant upward turn for the Hoosiers, as Indiana made its first Big Ten Tournament appearance since 2004 by rallying for a sixth-place finish in the regular season. IU then eliminated Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State at the conference tournament before falling in the semifinals to Purdue. With a 31-30 record on the season, IU had its finest season in Smith's tenure.

    The Illini are in their fourth year under head coach Dan Hartleb's leadership. Hartleb took over the head coaching duties after 15 years as an assistant at Illinois under Hall of Fame coach Richard Jones. In his first three years, Hartleb has led the Illini to three consecutive Big Ten Tournament appearances. Illinois has qualified for postseason play in 10 of the past 13 seasons with Hartleb in the dugout.

    Junior Eric Arnett has always possessed the potential to be one of the top arms in the conference and the nation, but his third season has been by far his most impressive. The Pataskala, Ohio, native has come through to post some of the top numbers in the Big Ten in 2009.

    In his season debut against Georgetown, Arnett allowed just four hits and two walks, striking out a career-high eight in a 12-4 victory. Two weeks later against ECU, he pitched a complete game to up his career-high strikeout total for the third straight game, striking out 10.

    His Big Ten opener was just as impressive on Saturday. Facing the 25th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers and with the Hoosiers amidst a four-game losing streak, Arnett pitched arguably the best game of his career. He went the full nine, striking out 10, and allowed just six hits and two walks. Over his final six innings of work, he gave up just two hits, and saved his best for the ninth, as he struck out Justin Gominsky to end the game on a 94-mph heater up in the zone.

    Arnett's 45 punchouts are second in the league, as are his 44.0 innings. His 2.45 ERA and .226 average against both place him in the conference's top 10.

    Arnett did not have a typical offseason, as he tried out for the basketball team, and impressed Tom Crean instantly to earn a roster spot. He served as a key post player during practice for the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Due to scholarship limitations, he could not play in a game per NCAA rules, but practiced with the team until early January.

    After a stellar 2008 season, Josh Phegley entered 2009 with high expectations. Though he went through a brief slump at the start of the season, he has surged to put up numbers that are similarly gaudy to last season's.

    Phegley enters the weekend fourth in the conference in batting average (.400), second in slugging (684) and third in on-base percentage (.492). His 31 RBI are just two off the conference lead and with six longballs, he is tied for fourth in the Big Ten. The junior has not seen very many pitches to hit, as he is tied for third in the league with 18 walks.

    Phegley posted his fourth career five-hit game against Morehead State, hitting three home runs and adding a double and single for six RBI. The huge game vaulted Phegley to his second career Big Ten Player of the Week mention and he was named to the College Baseball Foundation's National All-Star Lineup for Week Four.

    Phegley, who was a unanimous first team Preseason All-American at catcher this season, has played all over the field this year. The majority of his time has been spent behind the dish, but he has also appeared at third base and in both left and right field for the Hoosiers. Following IU's spring trip, Phegley offered his services to Coach Smith as a closer as well. The Terre Haute native was a pitcher in high school and made his debut on the mound against Cincinnati, striking out one in a perfect inning.

    While Josh Phegley is the most feared hitter in the Indiana lineup, opposing teams are starting to see the potential possessed by the man behind him, Alex Dickerson. The freshman is currently second in the Big Ten with seven home runs and is second in the conference with 71 total bases.

    After struggling in the season opener (0-for-5 with three Ks), Dickerson has rallied to raise his average to .385 on the year. The Poway, Calif., native is currently third in the league with a .683 slugging percentage and is fifth in the Big Ten with his 29 RBI.

    Making his conference debut last weekend, Dickerson raised his game, lifting IU to a 3-2 win in the Saturday contest against Minnesota. With the Hoosiers trailing 2-1 in the sixth and Josh Phegley on first, Dickerson blasted a 1-1 pitch out of the park to left to give IU a lead it would not relinquish. He finished the game 2-for-3 with a double as well.

    Dickerson. who had a 15-game hitting streak earlier in the season, has registered at least one hit in 21 of his 25 career games and is tied with Jerrud Sabourin for second in the Big Ten with 40 hits. He has had two hits or more 13 times and has posted six three-hit games already this year. He has also drastically cut his strikeouts as of late, as he has punched out just seven times over his last 71 plate appearances.

    Matt Bashore and Eric Arnett came into the preseason as IU's top two starters, but with the emergence of Friday starter Blake Monar, those two have been dropped down in the rotation.

    Monar, a High School All-American and a 26th-round selection of the New York Yankees, has been incredibly strong. His first start was a solid debut against USF in the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge, and his second - against Le Moyne - was even more impressive, Monar scattered four hits, striking out six, in seven innings against the Dolphins.

    During the spring trip in Florida, though, Monar raised the bar. The Rockport, Ind., native no-hit Jacksonville State for the first five innings before running into trouble in a no-decision. Then on Friday, Monar dueled with Alex Wimmers of Ohio State for a brilliant pitching duel. Monar retired 15 Buckeyes in a row at one point and finished with four hits and two walks in seven innings. Monar struggled in his conference debut, as his curveball was off and he picked up the loss in six innings of work.

    The freshman is currently sixth in the Big Ten with his .220 batting average against. He has opponents hitting at a 4-for-31 clip with two outs. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the fact that he has only given up one extra-base hit - a double against JSU.

    Junior college transfer Jake Dunning came to the Hoosiers pegged as the team's starting shortstop. With injuries to Ethan Wilson and Cody Webber, Dunning has stepped up his game over the last couple weeks.

    In his home state, Dunning caught fire over the spring trip, hitting .444 with two doubles and two triples with a .667 slugging percentage. He also scored eight runs (second to Josh Phegley) and drove in six. On the defensive side, Dunning made just two errors and had a .957 fielding percentage at short. He has made just four errors over his last 15 games for a .950 fielding percentage over that span. He also leads the team with a .472 average during those 15 contests.

    Dunning extended his hitting streak to 12 games on Wednesday by matching a school record with five hits. Over his streak, he has hit .500 with four doubles and 11 RBI to raise his average from .222 to .373.

    The Orange Park, Fla., native has also served out of the bullpen for Indiana, beginning the season as the team's closer. He has made four appearances, striking out six in 5 2/3 innings of work. He earned his only save by pitching 1 1/3 strong innings in a 9-7 win over USF in IU's opening weekend.

    While Jake Dunning's current hitting streak is the longest among the Hoosiers, he is not the only IU batsman who has put up a double-digit hitting streak this season. In fact, four different Hoosiers have had a streak of 12 games or more, the only team in the conference with that many players with a double-digit hit streak.

    Alex Dickerson's 15 gamer (2/21-3/17) is the longest by an IU player this year, while Josh Phegley (3/8-3/27) and Jerrud Sabourin (2/20-3/14) each had 13-game strings. Tyler Rogers (2/27-3/16) had a 12-game stretch this season as well. In 2008, only three IU players had a 10-game streak or longer, led by Chris Hervey's 21 gamer.

    Jerrud Sabourin had a stellar freshman year, picking up Freshman All-America honors from several publications after hitting .383 and leading all conference frosh with 53 RBI. The first baseman has followed up on that by showing strong in 2009, as he is tied for seventh in the league with a .385 average and tied for second with 40 hits.

    Sabourin saw his hitting streak snapped at 14 games (dating back to 2008) against Jacksonville State on March 15, which sent him into a brief slump that has dropped his average from a season high of .538. Still, he has recorded 13 multi-hit games so far this season, and he matched his career high when he had a four-hit game against Le Moyne on March 8.

    Sabourin hit his third homer of the year on Wednesday night at Cincinnati, blasting a line shot far over the right-field wall for a three-run blast. He had three hits in the game to make him 5-for-8 on the week, as he was 2-for-2 against Chicago State on Tuesday.




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