Hoosiers Host Illini in Final Conference Series

    Go Hoosiers! Alex Dickerson enters the final weekend of the regular season as the Big Ten's leader in all three triple crown categories.
    Go Hoosiers!
    Alex Dickerson enters the final weekend of the regular season as the Big Ten's leader in all three triple crown categories.
    Go Hoosiers!

    May 19, 2010

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    Illinois (25-24, 9-12) at Indiana (25-24, 10-11)
    Sembower Field • Bloomington, Ind.

    Thursday, May 20 - 3 p.m. ET
    IU - LHP Drew Leininger (7-3, 4.33) | ILL - RHP Lee Zerrusen (2-6, 6.55)
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    Friday, May 21 - 1 p.m. ET
    IU - RHP Jonny Hoffman (2-2, 8.53) | ILL - RHP Kevin Johnson (5-2, 4.90)
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    Saturday, May 22 - 1 p.m. ET
    IU - RHP Matt Carr (2-1, 2.70) | ILL - TBA
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    (starters are probable and subject to change)

    The Indiana baseball team enters the final weekend of the year needing to take at least two games against Illinois to have a chance at returning to the Big Ten Tournament. IU enters the week in a four-way tie for fifth place in the conference, with Illinois just one game back in ninth. The Hoosiers actually still have a shot at a share of the Big Ten title, and, in fact, there could potentially be a six-way tie for the top spot in the conference at 13-11, albeit an incredibly remote possibility.

    IU lost two of three at Michigan State last weekend, and has won series this year against Iowa and Northwestern. Illinois dropped two of three to Purdue in Champaign, and possesses series wins against Northwestern and Ohio State.

    Indiana took two of three at Illinois early on in the 2009 season. The Hoosiers slugged their way to a game one win behind two homers from Josh Phegley in a 14-7 win. The two teams then played a Saturday doubleheader due to impending weather on Sunday, and IU won the opener, 2-1 in 10 innings, behind a complete game from Eric Arnett and a homer in extras by Alex Dickerson. U of I took the finale, 5-4.

    Tracy Smith is in his fifth season as Indiana Baseball's head coach. In 2009, he led the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten Tournament title since 1996 and the second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. In his four years at the helm of the Hoosiers, IU is 129-150. In 13 years as a head coach, Smith has a career record of 446-370-1 (.547). Dan Hartleb is in his fifth year at Illinois, where he has a record of 149-125. He served as an assistant at U of I for the 15 years prior to taking over the helm.

    It is hard to imagine a race being any closer than the chase for the Big Ten Tournament and for the conference's regular-season crown. Minnesota put some distance on the field by sweeping Penn State, but there are still eight different teams that could lay a claim to a share of the title, including the Hoosiers. The race is so close, in fact, that it is possible to see a six-way tie for the conference crown, with all six positions in the Big Ten Tournament determined by tiebreakers. With the number of tiebreakers that are still possible, it is too early to project what Indiana has to do to make the tournament, but if the Hoosiers win two of three and Purdue takes at least one game in its series at Iowa, Indiana is likely to make the tournament. That said, only Minnesota is completely assured of a spot in the postseason at this point.

    All-America candidate Alex Dickerson is currently posting one of the most remarkable seasons in Indiana history. The left fielder currently leads the Big Ten in several categories, including all three triple crown categories (.414 average, 22 home runs, 69 RBI). Barring an absurd weekend by someone behind him, he will lead the conference in both longballs and runs driven in, as he has a four homer lead and a 14 RBI advantage. The next closest to him in batting average is teammate Jerrud Sabourin, who is hitting .403.

    Dickerson also sits atop the conference in slugging percentage (.814), hits (87) and total bases (171) and is second in runs scored (54), third in on-base percentage (.472) and fourth in doubles (18).

    Dickerson entered this week fourth nationally in home runs, and with his 20th homer of the year against Northwestern last Saturday, he became just the fourth player in school history to reach the 20-homer plateau. He has since added home runs number 21 and 22 to move into sole possession of third place on IU's single-season list. He now trails only Mike Smith (27, 1992) and Bill Mueller (23, 1985) on the Indiana list.

    Dickerson sits behind only Siena's Dan Paolini (25), Fresno State's Jordan Ribeira (24) and East Tennessee State's Paul Hoilman (23) nationally in homers and trails only Paolini in homers per game. As of May 16, he was fifth in the nation in slugging, second in total bases, 14th in RBI, and 17th in hits.

    Dickerson's 36 career homers are tied for sixth in in school history, and he is now just one shy of tying former MLB All-Star Mickey Morandini for fifth on the list (37). Smith and Mike Sabo share the top spot, clocking in at 47 home runs apiece.

    Though Dickerson struggled in the Minnesota series, he left fans and players with a memory they will not soon forget. In Saturday's contest, he hit a 3-2 offering from T.J. Oakes seven rows deep into section 211 of the upper deck for what head coach Tracy Smith called the longest homer he had ever seen.

    He had one home run in the Purdue series and then went 7-for-12 with two bombs and six RBI at Northwestern to win his second Big Ten co-Player of the Week award. His nine home runs in conference play are tied for fourth on the school's all-time list. He is looking to become only the third player (Smith, Josh Phegley) to tally double digit homers in conference action.

    But perhaps the most impressive part is what Dickerson has done while out of the batter's box. The Poway native played mostly at designated hitter last year, but worked hard to improve his defense in the outfield over the summer, and made a game-saving diving grab in the finale at Northwestern. He has 85 putouts without an error this year.

    Q HIM UP
    After a midweek start at Xavier in March 2009, senior Chris "Q" Squires moved into the bullpen full-time for the Hoosiers, and since that time he has emerged as one of the top closers in the Big Ten. On April 10 against OSU, he came on for a scoreless bottom of the 10th to post his 16th career save, setting a new IU record. He has since upped his career total to 20 saves.

    The Ft. Wayne native had a tough weekend at Michigan State, marking just his second blown save of the season in game one and getting hit hard while trying to keep it close in game two. But in the finale, he came on to toss 3 1/3 strong innings, allowing just one run, to post his ninth save of the year, matching Ryan Smith (2002) for the single-season record.

    Squires has appeared at least twice in six of the last seven weekend series, and appeared in all three games against both Purdue and Michigan State. He has thrown at least 2 2/3 innings in every conference weekend. Squires has now made 28 appearances on the year, a new career-best and second all-time, and is IU's all-time appearances leader with 86.

    The Hoosiers entered the March 9 game against Louisville with just four home runs as a team and just one longball in the previous six games. That now seems like a distant memory, as Indiana entered this week 26th in the country in homers and 20th in longballs per game.

    Micah Johnson started the homer barrage against Louisville when he knocked two balls out of the yard, and IU has carried over that power surge and now leads the Big Ten with 73 homers. Indiana is currently in the running to break the school record of 82 homers, set in the 1992 season, when IU Hall of Famer Mike Smith led the nation with 27 longballs.

    The Hoosiers bashed five home runs against Miami, five at Morehead State and a Big Ten season-high six against Xavier. After not having a multi-homer game by anyone but Josh Phegley since 2004, IU has gotten two-homer games from Johnson (twice), Michael Earley (twice), Jerrud Sabourin, Alex Dickerson and Ethan Wilson over the last 39 contests. Earley alone has 10 homers in that span.

    The Hoosiers have four players in the Big Ten's top seven in home runs, with Dickerson (22), Lyon (11), Earley (10) and Johnson (9) in that category. Indiana's regular 3-6 hitters (Sabourin, Dickerson, Earley and Lyon) have more home runs (49) than every team but Purdue (52) in the Big Ten. Last Tuesday against Kentucky, every member of the starting lineup but Wes Wilson (.414) had slugged at least .500.

    In total, Indiana has hit 69 homers, 11 triples and 85 doubles over the last 36 games for a .547 slugging percentage as a team. Twelve different players have gone deep, 13 different players have smashed doubles and five Hoosiers have tripled in the span.




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