Illini Recruiting Class Ranked No. 22 by D1Baseball.com

Champaign, Ill. — The Illinois baseball team’s class of newcomers for this season is ranked No. 22 in the nation by D1Baseball.com, the website released Monday. Illinois was previously ranked No. 24 in the nation by Baseball America.

“This is probably one of the top classes that we’ve had in my tenure,” head coach Dan Hartleb said during his Signing Day press conference in November. “It’s pitching heavy, which is so important in the game of baseball. And we met a lot of needs as far as athletes and position players.”

Two student-athletes were picked in the 2018 MLB Draft before choosing to honor their commitments to Illinois. Catcher Jacob Campbell was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 36th round and pitcher Aidan Maldonado was picked two rounds later by the Milwaukee Brewers. Both were in Baseball America’s top 300 prospects and were considered top 5-10 round talents at the conclusion of their senior years of high school before falling in the draft due to signability. Maldonado was up to 96 MPH this fall during his first semester on campus.

Pitcher Garrett Acton was also drafted out of high school in 2016 to make it three of 10 newcomers that have been selected by MLB clubs. Acton is one of three junior college pitching signees that are set to help the staff.

“These are some of the higher rated kids that we’ve had,” said Hartleb. “A lot of these players had committed or were on our radar from back in 2015 year.”

Illinois had an unprecedented season in 2015, winning 50 games and the NCAA Champaign Regional on the way to hosting the program’s first ever Super Regional. The Illini also had back-to-back seasons with a first-round pick in 2015 (Tyler Jay) and 2016 (Cody Sedlock) and the 2018 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year in Bren Spillane, who became Illinois’ highest-ever drafted position player in June.

“I’m really excited about this group,” said Hartleb. “It meets what we’ve always tried to do as far as good student-athletes and guys that will try to work hard and get better.”

Illini Holtzman Inducted into St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame

St. Louis — Former Illinois pitcher Ken Holtzman was inducted Wednesday into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame during a banquet at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac Hotel. A number of University of Illinois representatives were in attendance, including current Illini head coach Dan Hartleb.

Holtzman was Illinois’ team MVP and an All-Big Ten selection in 1965 before debuting in the Major Leagues with the Chicago Cubs in the same year. He spent 15 years in MLB, pitching in 451 games with a 174-150 record and 3.49 ERA.

Holtzman is one of the most decorated Illini players ever. He was part of the Oakland A’s starting rotation for back-to-back-to-back World Series titles in 1972-74 and was an MLB All-Star in 1972 and ’73.

This year’s St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame class includes Holtzman, Rich Niemann (basketball), Kenny Wallace (auto racing), Terry Metcalf (football), Bob DeMarco (football), Andy Van Slyke (baseball), Marty Hogan (racquetball), Keith Tkachuk (hockey), Earl Austin Jr. (media). Tony Van Zant (football) received the President’s Choice Award and Jack Jones (football) received the Metro Legends Award and Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis receiving the Community Service Award.

Illinois’ Recruiting Class Ranked No. 24 by Baseball America

Champaign, Ill. –The Illinois baseball program’s recruiting class, the class that arrived on campus in August, is the 24th-best in the nation according to Baseball America, the publication announced Wednesday. Illinois is the only Big Ten program ranked and it is the first time in program history an Illini recruiting class has been ranked in the top 25.

“This is probably one of the top classes that we’ve had in my tenure,” head coach Dan Hartleb said during his Signing Day press conference in November. “It’s pitching heavy, which is so important in the game of baseball. And we met a lot of needs as far as athletes and position players.”

Two student-athletes were picked in the 2018 MLB Draft before choosing to honor their commitments to Illinois. Catcher Jacob Campbell was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 36th round and pitcher Aidan Maldonado was picked two rounds later by the Milwaukee Brewers. Both were in Baseball America’s top 300 prospects and were considered top 5-10 round talents at the conclusion of their senior years’ of high school before falling in the draft due to sign ability.

Pitcher Garrett Acton was also drafted out of high school in 2016 to make it three of 10 newcomers that have been selected by MLB clubs. Acton is one of three junior college pitching signees that are set to help the staff.

“These are some of the higher rated kids that we’ve had,” said Hartleb. “A lot of these players had committed or were on our radar from back in 2015 year.”

Illinois had an unprecedented season in 2015, winning 50 games and the NCAA Champaign Regional on the way to hosting the program’s first ever Super Regional. The Illini also had back-to-back seasons with a first-round pick in 2015 (Tyler Jay) and 2016 (Cody Sedlock) and the 2018 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year in Bren Spillane, who became Illinois’ highest-ever drafted position player in June.

Illinois narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last year after finishing fourth in the Big Ten and advancing to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. The recruiting class combined with a solid core of returners has Illinois poised for an exciting season in 2019.

“I’m really excited about this group,” said Hartleb. “It meets what we’ve always tried to do as far as good student-athletes and guys that will try to work hard and get better.”

The best recruiting classes from 2010-2014

There’s still a few Big Ten programs yet to start their fall practice season. But for most, new faces are mixing with returning places as rosters start to take shape with the 2019 season in mind.

As the talent across the Big Ten continues to get better and deep year over year, many freshmen will arrive to campus and put on their school’s colors with prodigious accolades from their prep days, with a few having the honor of being selected in the MLB Draft. The past of a freshman makes it easier to fill out bios and for outside publications to compile all of the freshmen who compose a recruiting class, list them next to each other, and proclaim who has the best recruiting class. But when the time comes to step into the batter’s box or toe the rubber, what was done in high school means little.

Instead, we think it’s best to allow a recruiting to have their four-year window on campus come to pass, in order to compare and determine who had the best. Here, before fall practice has commenced throughout the conference, and a sense of who may be a standout can fully form, 10 Innings looks at the top recruiting class over the last five years in the Big Ten.

To note, more emphasis was placed on individual success, believing that while one recruiting class can drastically change the fortunes of a program, the success of a team in any given year is made up of four recruiting classes. Also, recruiting classes were based on who was a freshman on campus in the fall of their high school graduating year. This would, for example, exclude considering Scott Donley as a part of Indiana’s class of 2011, as he was a transfer from Virginia Tech. Finally, the first classes for Maryland and Rutgers to have spent all four years in the Big Ten would have been 2014, four-year graduates of this past spring.

So with history on our side which program had the top recruiting class over the last five years?

2010- Indiana

Key players: Dustin DeMuth, Joey DeNato, Ryan Halstead, Aaron Slegers

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013, 2014 Big Ten champions. 2013, 2014 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2013 Bloomington Regional champions. 2013 College World Series. 2014 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 153-82 overall, 65-31 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: DeNato. 2011 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: DeMuth, DeNato, Halstead. 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Slegers. 2014 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: DeNato.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 7

Highest draft pick: Slegers, fifth round, 140th overall, 2013.

Why them? This class was the foundation of teams that helped Indiana lead the change in conversation regarding Big Ten baseball. The following year’s recruiting class drew the headlines, covered magazines and have two MLBers, but this is the class that was necessary to take Indiana into college baseball’s upper echelon. A four-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, DeNato is the best pitcher in Indiana history, holding the school record for innings, strikeouts and wins. Slegers’ 2013 campaign was quietly dominant. DeMuth litters the Indiana record book, and Halstead was a rock of a reliever at the back of the IU bullpen for their two regional clubs. Arriving to campus two years after Indiana broke through and won the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, this group pushed IU over the top.

 

2011- Indiana

Key players: Kyle Hart, Luke Harrison, Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013, 2014 Big Ten champions. 2013, 2014 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2013 Bloomington Regional champions. 2013 College World Series. 2014 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 2015 NCAA Tournament. 158-81 overall, 66-28 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Travis. 2012 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Chad Clark, Hart, Schwarber, Chris Sujka, Travis. 2013 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Travis. 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team: Schwarber, Travis. 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year: Travis. 2014 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Schwarber.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 5

Highest draft pick: Schwarber, first round, fourth overall, 2014.

Why them? The Bash Brothers. What hasn’t been said of the impact that Schwarber and Travis had on Indiana, Big Ten and college baseball? A rival coach called Schwarber a generational talent, one you see every 20-25 years, Travis a once-a-decade player. Where DeNato is the best pitcher in Indiana history, quite the argument can be made that Hart is the second-best. Appearing in 87 games, Harrison pitched 167 innings to the tune of a 2.86 ERA and 15-4 record. While Schwarber and Travis were ascending the ranks in the minors in 2015, Harrison and Hart were  key factors in Indiana’s transition between head coaches Tracy Smith and Chris Lemonis, making sure Indiana’s two-year run wasn’t a blip on the radar, but the start of a new day for IU baseball.

 

2012- Illinois

Key players: Kevin Duchene, Jason Goldstein, Tyler Jay, Adam Walton

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013 NCAA Tournament. 2015 Big Ten champions. 2015 National Seed. 2015 Champaign Regional champions. 145-74-1 overall, 64-30 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Duchene. 2013 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Duchene, Goldstein. 2015 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Jay. 2014 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team: Jay.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 4

Highest draft pick: Jay, first round, sixth overall, 2015.

Why them? If Indiana forced a different discussion around Big Ten baseball, this recruiting class of Illini helped cement the change in perception. After helping Illinois to the Nashville Regional in 2013, being left on the outside of the 2014 NCAA Tournament helped fuel the most dominant showing by a team in Big Ten play the following year. As upperclassmen, the class helped Dan Hartleb’s team to a school-record 27-game winning streak, and a 21-1 Big Ten record in 2015. The regular season ended with the Illini were earning the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. From their first spring, Duchene was a key starter, Jay a lights-out receiver and Goldstein a rock behind the plate. Walton gave this recruiting class its fourth All-Big Ten first-team selection in 2015, with strong two-way play at short.

 

2013- Ohio State

Key players: Ronnie Dawson, Travis Lakins, Troy Montgomery, Tanner Tully

Four-year team accomplishments: 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2016 NCAA Tournament. 127-102 overall. 46-50 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Tully. 2014 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Dawson, Tully. 2016 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Dawson.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 2

Highest draft pick: Dawson, second round, 62nd overall, 2016.

Why them? The toughest class to pick, the individual star power between Dawson, Montgomery, Lakins and Tully helped pushed this class over Nebraska’s 2013 recruiting class. The Husker did appear in three NCAA Tournaments, 2014, 2016-17, and won the Big Ten, topping Ohio State’s one regional and tournament title. But of Nebraska’s 11 freshmen in the fall of 2013, there were only a combined four All-Big Ten selections, no first-team picks, only five of the 11 made significant contributions over their career. Dawson and Tully were both All-Big Ten second-team picks as freshmen in 2014, before earning first-team nods in 2016, while Montgomery was a second-team selection in 2015. Lakins was a sixth-round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2015.

 

2014- Minnesota

Key players: Micah Coffey, Lucas Gilbreath, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen

Four-year team accomplishments: 2016 Big Ten champions. 2016 NCAA Tournament. 2018 Big Ten champions. 2018 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2018 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 2018 Minneapolis Regional Champions. 137-88 overall, 58-34 in Big Ten.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 1

Highest draft pick: Gilbreath, seventh round, 216th overall.

Why them? The class didn’t have a star like Schwarber, Travis, or Dawson, but collectively they were steady contributors, year after year. Gilbreath is responsible for the lone All-Big Ten first-team selection in the recruiting class, tabbed as one of the three best Big Ten pitchers in 2017. But Coffey was a three-time All-Big Ten pick, a second-team selection in each of his final three seasons, with Hanson earning third-team praise in 2016, before Pettersen did in 2018. The last three years of their time in Minnesota stands against any three-year period for any Big Ten program over the last 25 years, capping their career with winning the Minneapolis Regional, advancing the program to its first super regional appearance.

Ten thoughts from the summer II

It’s time to close the book on summer thoughts, news and notes.

Here’s the second part of ten thoughts from the summer, as we get ready to shift gears to fall practices and the 2019 season.

Top prospects heading to campus

The MLB Draft was pretty kind to Big Ten programs this year. Across the conference, from Minnesota to New Jersey, top prep players with pledges to Big Ten programs spurned professional overtures.

A few players did sign a contact. Michigan lost Drew Rom, a Kentucky prep left-handed pitcher, to the Baltimore Orioles, after the American League organization picked him in the fourth round. Ohio State saw recruit Keegan Fish, a catcher and 13th-round pick from southwest Ohio, sign with the Miami Marlins. And Iowa-signee Korry Howell, a JUCO transfer picked by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 12th round.

But more players who were the highlights of respective recruiting classes will arrive on campus.

A few noteworthy players:

Illinois

Catcher Jacob Campbell- 36th round, Chicago Cubs

RHP Aidan Maldonando- 38th round, Milwaukee Brewers

Michigan

RHP Steven Hajjar- 21st round, Brewers

Michigan State

OF Zaid Walker- 36th round, Cincinnati Reds

Nebraska

SS/RHP Spencer Schwellenbach- 34th round, Cleveland Indians

Rutgers

C- Peter Serruto- 22nd round, Reds

Worth noting, a player picked in the 30th+ rounds may not seem overly impressive, outside of the impressiveness of being draft in the first place, but each of the above player’s talent merited being selected earlier. They were drafted in the final quarter of the draft due to their respective commitments to their school. Professional clubs viewed them as unlikely to sign, but the talent each possessed warranted selecting them, just in case there was a change of heart, or a signing bonus of $125,000, the maximum a club can offer without it counting against its allotted pool to sign players drafted in the first 10 rounds, would be a enough.

Prep Baseball Report ranks Maldonado, Schwellenbach and Walker the respective number two players in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois, players who have a chance to standout on campus over the next three years before their time comes again to be picked by a professional club.

Midwest vs. West

Players like Hajjar and Serruo heading to campus is another example of the Big Ten providing a great product on the field, alongside the world-class education the student-athletes receive. How good that product is might surprise the casual fan, but more and more there is proof the Big Ten is an elite baseball conference.

I remember five years ago, after his first season in Ann Arbor, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich told me there was no reason the Big Ten would not only be a true Power 5 conference in baseball, but would be on par, if not better than the Pac-12 and Big XII. The depth of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences, along with the geographic advantage will likely have those two be 1-2 in some order for the foreseeable future. But Bakich had no doubt the Midwest could be the Big Ten’s and level to those on the Pacific coast.

Looking at NCAA Tournament participants, since 2015, the Big Ten has placed 17 teams in a regional, with the Pac-12 one ahead at 18. Last year, the Big Ten and Pac-12 split 24 regular season games.

The Pac-12 has done a better job of advancing teams through the NCAA Tournament, and of course have the reigning national champion in Oregon State, who knocked out Minnesota in the Corvallis Regional, but not before the Gophers twice beat UCLA to win the Minneapolis Regional. Now, as schedules begin to trickle out, the 2019 season will offer more opportunities for to two conferences with Rose Bowl ties to square off on the mind.

In touching base with coaches around the conference, what’s known so far in Big Ten-Pac 12 showdowns:

Arizona will travel to Penn State during the final weekend of the regular season, the start of a home-and-home series which has Penn State traveling to Tucson in 2020.

Michigan State has a three-game series at Arizona State, followed by a midweek game at Arizona.

Minnesota will see Oregon State in back-to-back weekends to open the season, the two participating in a pair of tournaments.

Michigan will participate in the Dodger Stadium/Dodgertown College Baseball Classic with USC, UCLA and Arizona. Two years ago the Wolverines were in the field with USC, UCLA and San Diego.

Lengthy droughts continue for Michigan and Ohio State

I started blogging on Big Ten baseball matters 10 years ago, taking over the Ohio State-centric Buckeye Nine. One, I have no idea how that turned into this. Two, it’s a bit scary to think a decade has passed.

Nonetheless, to say the Big Ten of 2018 is not the Big Ten of 2008 is an understatement. Forget recruits, facilities, head coach salaries, just look who has won the Big Ten this decade.

Since 2010, Minnesota has three titles (2010, 2016, 2018) and Illinois has two (2011, 2015). Those two have been historically strong programs, their championships would cause someone to bat an eye in 2008. But Michigan State (2011), Purdue (2012), Indiana (2013-14), Nebraska, hello realignment, (2017) certainly would. But perhaps more than who has won the conference crown is who hasn’t.

The 2019 season will be the ten-year mark since the Buckeyes last won the Big Ten. But even then, they will have a more recent championship than their arch-rival, Michigan last winning the conference championship in 2008. To know just how rare this is, the last time neither Michigan nor Ohio State won a Big Ten championship in a nine-year window would be 1908-1916. A period when the University of Chicago found themselves Big Ten baseball champs.

For the conference as a whole, it’s a good thing the Big Ten isn’t dominated by Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State, as was the case for four decades from 1980-2010. More teams winning means more depth, more depth means more teams in the NCAA Tournament, more teams in the NCAA Tournament increases the odds of having a representative in Omaha.

But it is a bit surprising two of collegiate athletics most recognizable names, programs with storied histories, have gone so long without winning the conference.

Wisconsin baseball isn’t coming back

With the team they have returning, losing only one underclassman to the draft, many view Michigan as a preseason Big Ten favorite, a club ready to end that aforementioned drought. While certainly possible, if not probably, we know for certain one Big Ten institution that’s not winning a baseball championship any time soon: Wisconsin.

The baseball-less Badgers are the lone Big Ten university without a varsity baseball program. As Big Ten baseball continues to make strides, as well as Wisconsin producing top baseball talent (Campbell is a Wisconsin native, as was Minnesota All-American shortstop Terrin Vavra), it’s entertaining to think is the time coming for Wisconsin to revive its baseball program.

I don’t think it’s happening.

In June, the Detroit News revealed the University of Michigan will receive $52.1 million in Big Ten conference distributions, stemming from the television rights the conference has with ABC/ESPN, FOX, and its own Big Ten Network.

There would be Title IX matters to resolve in terms of scholarship equality between female and male students, as well as figuring out where games will be played. But if living in a day and age where Big Ten universities are receiving more than $50 million a year from television rights doesn’t create the landscape for Wisconsin to bring back a program, one that many believe would have more than a shot to compete for conference championships and regional bids when brought back, I can’t see when the time will be right.

Joe Healy’s appreciated work

Wrapping up everything that crossed my mind over the summer, I cannot go without shining a light on the work done by College Baseball Central’s Joe Healy and his podcast series, especially in the absence of myself producing any content. Throughout the summer, Healy spoke to people throughout the media, often beat writers, to dig into ongoings regarding programs around the country. Many of Healy’s podcast covered Big Ten teams, and here you can listen to insights, news and opinion on:

Indiana

Iowa

Nebraska

Purdue

Joe was the lone national writer to cover the Big Ten Tournament this past year, and is a great reference and source for news and content covering the Big Ten.

Courtwright Joins Illini Staff

Champaign, Ill. — Curt Courtwright joined the Illinois baseball coaching staff as a volunteer assistant, head coach Dan Hartleb announced. Courtwright takes over the role after Casey Fletcher departed for a full-time assistant job at Valparaiso.

Courtwright spent the previous three seasons at Eastern Illinois under head coach Jason Anderson, a former Fighting Illini and MLB pitcher. Courtwright helped instruct the infielders and hitters at EIU, helping the Panthers finish one double play shy of leading the nation in 2017.

Courtwright spent one year as an assistant at Rend Lake College in 2014, primarily working as the hitting and infield instructor as well as the recruiting coordinator, prior to his stop at EIU.

A native of Lincoln, Illinois, Courtwright competed at various levels of baseball. During his four-year career playing at Missouri State, Courtwright appeared in 158 games for the Bears and left as the school record holder for assists in a game. Courtwright played for the Glens Falls Golden Eagles in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and was named team MVP in 2008. In 2010, he played professionally for the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League.

After his time with the Grizzlies, Courtwright began his coaching career. He was the head coach at Lincoln Community High School before serving as the hitting and infield coach for the Morehead City Marlins of the Coastal Plains League.

Courtwright earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in business from Missouri State in 2010.

Illinois Baseball: 2019 Schedule Released

Champaign, Ill. — The Illinois baseball team and head coach Dan Hartleb released the 2019 Illini schedule.

2019 Illinois Baseball Schedule
» 52 games (plus two fall games)
» 22 games at Illinois Field
» Feb. 15 season opener vs. Georgetown (at Wake Forest)
» March 15 home opener vs. Southern Illinois
» March 29 Big Ten opener at Iowa
» April 5 Big Ten home opener vs. Maryland
» Four Big Ten home series: Maryland, Penn State, Indiana, Purdue
» Four Big Ten road series: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State
» Four Big Ten byes: Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers

Illinois Baseball to Travel to Aruba and Curaçao

Champaign, Ill. –The Illinois baseball team will travel to Aruba and Curaçao in November, head coach Dan Hartleb announced. The Illini will play six games beginning Nov. 18 against former pro players, current pros and up-and-coming amateur prospects.

NCAA regulations allow teams to make foreign trips once every four years. This will be the Illini’s second foreign trip in program history following its week-long trip to the Dominican Republic in 2014. Illinois followed the Dominican trip with its best season in program history, winning 50 games and advancing to the NCAA Super Regional in 2015.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to take our student-athletes to Aruba and Curaçao,” said Hartleb. “Our last foreign trip was extremely beneficial to our team and our student-athletes. All of our players will be able to learn on and off the field.”

The trip is being funded by the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and through the generous support of the Fighting Illini Dugout Club. The trip will serve three purposes: baseball, education and community service. In addition to baseball, the Illini will learn about the culture and donate their time through service activities.

“One of the main things we will do is spend time with kids in the community,” said Hartleb. “It will be a great opportunity for our student-athletes to gain experiences and give back to the game of baseball.”

Illinois plans to spend Nov. 18-20 in Curaçao before traveling to Aruba Nov. 21-23. Full coverage of the trip will be available on FightingIllini.com and @IlliniBaseball on Twitter.

Illinois’ Spillane Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year

Champagin, Ill. — Illinois junior Bren Spillane was named the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year, the publication announced Thursday. Spillane was the 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year and the national leader in slugging percentage (.903), OPS (1.401), home runs per game (0.46) and weighted on-base average (.569).

Spillane is the first Illini baseball player to earn a national player of the year award and the first Big Ten player to earn Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Year in its 35-year history. Recent winners include Andrew Benintendi (Arkansas, 2015), Kris Bryant (San Diego, 2013), Trevor Bauer (UCLA, 2011), Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast, 2010), Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State, 2009), Buster Posey (Florida State, 2008) and David Price (Vanderbilt, 2007).

Spillane is the 15th student-athlete in Illinois athletics history to earn a national player of the year award. He joins a list of 10 Illinois Athletics Hall of Famers, including Chuck Carney, Red Grange, Andy Phillip, Dick Butkus, Jim Grabowski, Mary Eggers, Renee Heiken Slone, Tonya Williams, Perdita Felicien and Dee Brown.

Spillane showed a rare combo of power and speed as the only player in the nation to hit 20+ home runs and steal 15+ bases. He became the first player in Illinois history to reach 15 homers and 15 steals in the same season, while also leading the Big Ten in batting average (.389), slugging percentage (.903), on-base percentage (.498), OPS (1.401), home runs (23), RBIs (60) and total bases (158).

The Wheeling, Illinois, native had an incredible .903 slugging percentage, the best mark in the nation since 2009 when Bryce Brentz slugged .930 for Middle Tennessee State. Spillane is the first player in the BBCOR era to slug over .900 and the first Power 5 player to lead the nation at over .900 since Pat Burrell slugged .948 for Miami (Fla.) in 1996.

The .903 slugging percentage is the second-best in the history of the Big Ten Conference behind Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer Darrin Fletcher’s .913 in 1987. It vaulted Spillane’s career slugging percentage to .723, an Illinois record and the top active slugging percentage in the NCAA of players with two or more years of experience.

Spillane put his name all over the Illinois record book in 2018. His single-season Illinois ranks include second in slugging (.903), second in home runs (23), second in Big Ten home runs (10), tied for fourth in total bases (158), tied for fourth in Big Ten total bases (67) and fifth in on-base percentage (.498).

Spillane was also named to the Collegiate Baseball All-America first team as part of the announcement.

Spillane Stats and Notes
• Leads the nation in slugging percentage (.903)
• Leads the nation in OPS (1.401)
• Leads the nation in home runs per game (0.46)
• Leads the nation in weighted on-base average (.569)
• Ranks second in the nation in home runs (23), fifth in total bases (158), ninth in on-base percentage (.498), 14th in RBIs per game (1.20) and 18th in batting average (.389)
• Only player in the nation with 20+ homers and 15+ stolen bases
• Only Division I player in history to slug over .900 in the BBCOR era
• First player in Division I to slug over .900 for a season since 2009 (Bryce Brentz, Middle Tennessee State, .930)
• First Power 5 player to lead the nation in slugging at over .900 since Pat Burrell (.948) for Miami (Fla.) in 1996
• No. 2 in Big Ten history in slugging percentage for a season (Darrin Fletcher, Illinois, 1987, .913)
• No. 1 in the nation in career slugging percentage among active players with two or more seasons (.723)
• No. 1 in Illinois history in career slugging percentage (.723)
• 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year
• 2018 Big Ten regular season triple crown (.407, 22 HR, 57 RBIs)
• 2018 Unanimous First Team All-Big Ten
• First player in Big Ten history to win three straight Big Ten Player of the Week awards (3/19-4/2/18)
• First player in Illinois history to win national player of the week honors twice
• Led the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS, home runs, RBIs and total bases
• Illinois single-season ranks include second in slugging (.903), second in home runs (23), second in Big Ten home runs (10), tied for fourth in total bases (158), tied for fourth in Big Ten total bases (67) and fifth in on-base percentage (.498)

Illinois All-Time National Players of the Year
2018 Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year: Bren Spillane
2012 USTFCCCA Men’s Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year: Andrew Riley
2011 Soccer News Net Women’s Player of the Year: Vanessa DiBernardo
2009 USTFCCCA Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year: Angela Bizzarri
2005 Sporting News Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Dee Brown
2003 USTFCCCA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year: Perdita Felicien
2001 USTFCCCA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year: Perdita Felicien
1996 Track & Field Collegiate News Athlete of the Year: Tonya Williams
1993 NGCA and Golf Week National Player of the Year: Renee Heiken Slone
1988 Honda Award and Broderick Volleyball Player of the Year: Mary Eggers
1965 Sporting News Football Player of the Year: Jim Grabowski
1964 American Football Coaches Association and Sporting News National Player of the Year: Dick Butkus
1943 Sporting News Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Andy Phillip
1924 Frank A. Toomey Trophy (pre-Heisman Trophy): Red Grange
1922 Helms Foundation Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Chuck Carney
1917 Helms Foundation Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Ray Woods

10 Takes: Big Ten Tournament Day 4

And then there were two… the best two. Saturday’s semifinals saw No. 1 seed Minnesota top No. 7 Ohio State, 8-1, before second-seeded Purdue provided their own definite victory, toppling No. 4 Illinois, 11-5. As Minnesota seeks its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2010, and Purdue seeks a second crown to stand alongside their 2012 triumph, the Big Ten Tournament championship features the top two teams in the conference standings, the two teams with the highest rated RPIs, the two hottest teams, and two teams ticketed for a regional.

Here’s what was observed on Saturday.

Fredrickson cool under pressure (and heat)

If there was to be a time when Minnesota right-handed pitcher Patrick Fredrickson was a bit vulnerable, the conditions were favorable for that time to arrive on Saturday morning. In his first taste of postseason action the freshman was on the rubber against a tough Ohio State lineup, one who has already faced him, in 90-degree weather. Neither the Buckeyes nor blistering Omaha sun could rattle the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. With an efficient 77-pitch, six-inning start, Fredrickson scattered only two hits, allowing one run, a first inning home run by Tyler Cowles, to improve to 9-0 on the year.

“The formula once again with Patrick Fredrickson on the mound was for him to pound the zone with three pitches and for us to play defense behind him,” said John Anderson after the game. He gave up the home run, but he … then got back to doing his thing. Before the six-run inning, I got the guys together in the dugout and said, we were trying too hard. We didn’t have a good approach at the plate the first half of the game. We had a lot of opportunities but couldn’t get the big hit.”

Minnesota exhibits offensive depth

With Fredrickson cruising, one big inning from Minnesota was all that was needed to cruise into Sunday’s title game. With the game tied 1-1, a Jordan Kozicky walk followed by Toby Hanson sending a triple over the head of Ohio State center fielder Dillon Dingler put the Gophers in front. Kozicky later singled in the inning, as to did Luke Pettersen and Cole McDevitt, with Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, and Eli Wilson all drawing walks. By the time the sixth inning was over, eight batters reached base safely, six Gophers crossed home, and Minnesota was well on their way to their 40th victory of the season. The inning summed up Minnesota’s ability to wear down the opposition, with multiple players showcasing an ability to be patient, string out at-bats and reach base. By the end of the game, seven Minnesota batters recorded a hit, even with leading hitter Terrin Vavra going 0-for-4.

Pavlopoulos gives Beals something to build on

Needing a fourth starter to step up in an effort to extend their tournament run, Greg Beals turned to senior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos. Making his fifth start, appearing in his 17th game overall, Pavlopoulos allowed one run off five hits in three innings. The right-handed did walk three batters, but Minnesota’s John Anderson spoke to Pavlopoulos’ changeup and sinking fastball keeping the Gophers off balance, and from being able to capitalize early in the contest. Ticketed for a regional, it’ll be important for Ohio State to be able to find a dependable fourth starter. Weekend starters Connor Curlis, Ryan Feltner, and Adam Niemeyer have yet to pitch a complete game in their combined careers. Next weekend, the Buckeye bullpen, led by workhorse Seth Kinker, will likely be needed in every contest, chipping away at Ohio State’s pitching depth as the weekend progresses. If the Buckeyes find themselves in the loser’s bracket, it’s imperative a capable fourth starter emerges to alleviate some of the bullpen strain, that role may now be on Pavlopoulous.

Cowles breakthrough campaign continues

With a home run and two walks, Cowles continued his strong senior season, as his two-year Ohio State career enters the final month. A transfer from Sinclair Community College, Cowles struggled in 2017, batting .190. Saturday’s home run upped his average to .327 and boasted his slugging percentage to .527, an increase of .213. Teammate Noah McGowan received much attention throughout the year, and deserved attention, in leading the Buckeyes in hitting, average, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs, and RBI. But Cowles, a third-team All-Big Ten outfield selection, has allowed McGowan to put up big time numbers in his cleanup spot by being a force in the Ohio State three-hole. With Dominic Canzone and Kobie Foppe’s ability to reach base, Cowles, more than any other, is the Buckeye that stirs the pot and get the team going.

Don’t forget the Gopher upperclassmen pitchers

After Fredrickson qualified for a quality start and exited after six innings, senior right-handed pitcher Jackson Rose allowed one hit over two innings, before junior left-handed pitcher Jeff Fasching closed the door with a scoreless ninth. Rose and Fasching’s outings come on the heels of junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer tossing a shutout against Illinois on Thursday, and Jake Steven logging 3.2 innings in the tournament opener against Michigan State. Minnesota’s underclassmen pitchers, led by Fredrickson and fellow first-team all-Big Ten selection Max Meyer, have been in the spotlight as they have excelled as first-year players. But with 15.2 innings of work from upperclassmen this week and only two earned runs allowed between them, the Gophers with hardware from the team’s 2016 championship have been a steady force in Minnesota on the verge of securing a regional at home.

Illini uncharacteristically sloppy…

Illinois entered Saturday with a Big Ten-leading .980 fielding percentage, and arguably the country’s top defensive middle infield. Unfortunately for Dan Hartleb’s club, Illinois had more than a few miscues contribute to their exit from the tournament. Shortstop Ben Troike had a tailor-made double play ball roll under his glove, catcher David Craan threw a ball into center field trying to throw out a runner, and the webbing in the glove of first baseman Bren Spillane allowed a ball to tear through. In addition to the free bases allowed by the defense, Illinois pitchers issued four walks, hit two batters, and threw five wild pitches. It was an atypical outing from a team who defense and ability to eliminate extra opportunities had contributed mightily to the team’s 33 wins.

…and Purdue pounces on opportunities

Every time Illinois made a mistake, Purdue seemingly took advantage of the opportunity. It’s never ideal to give a quality team extra outs, but more so when that team is Purdue. Taking the mold of their head coach, Purdue seeks every opportunity to find an edge, pushes for extra bases, and tries to exert as much pressure as possible on the opposition. In addition to the three errors, four walks, two hit batters, and five wild pitches, Purdue stole four bases, led by Nick Dalesandro grabbing two. Purdue did get thrown out on the bases three times, but Mark Wasikowski’s club stayed true to form, and more times than not were rewarded for being the aggressor and taking the action to Illinois.

Hartleb’s confidence in Watson warrented

Ahead of his start against Purdue, Dan Hartleb showered right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson with praise, Saturday evening, saying he has all of the confidence in the sophomore, regardless of opponent. Illinois’ shaky defense did allow Purdue to score three unearned runs, but Watson put Illinois in a position to win, pitching six innings, allowing two earned runs of six hits and a walk, striking out three batters. Watson entered the year in the Illini rotation and much was expected of him. Illinois would see Andy Fisher and Quinn Snarskis blossom and grab weekend roles, limiting Watson’s opportunities, but the performance Watson gave against Purdue showed why much was thought of him, and also shows the Illini has the depth in starting pitching to make a run in a regional.

Boilermakers powered on by bullpen

Purdue did benefit from a sloppy Illinois performance, and they did set the tone offensively. But the Boilermakers didn’t play the cleanest baseball themselves, walking eight batters, hitting two, and committed two errors. The difference was the performance by the Boilermaker bullpen. Trent Johnson, Bo Hofstra and Dalton Parker combined to pitch the final 6.1 innings, allowing Illinois to score one run off two hits. The depth of Purdue’s bullpen has been on display this week, and is nicely summed up in the fact all-Big Ten closer Ross Learnard has yet to pitch, even though Purdue heads into the title game 3-0.

Purdue’s looks to give doubters one last statement

Purdue players and coaches alike have not shied away from referencing how one preseason prediction penciled the team to finish 11th in the Big Ten this year, and how that has fueled their motivation. From 2-22 to a second-place finish and a shot to return to West Lafayette with a Big Ten Tournament title, if there are any who still choose to cast doubt over Wasikowski and the direction of the Purdue program, they do so at their own peril, the Boilermakers have looked like one of the best teams in the nation this week in Omaha, and don’t show signs of slowing down any time soon. Sunday should be fun on.

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