Issue date: 5/8/09
The National Player of the Week and Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Week, Ohio State's Alex Wimmers will start the opening match of an important three-game series this weekend.
It's the start of a series that might ultimately decide the Big Ten champion as the OSU baseball team travels to Champaign, Ill., to take on Illinois.
Coming off his 14-strikeout, no-hit performance against Michigan last weekend, Wimmers (8-1, 2.79 ERA) will look to end the Buckeyes' three-game losing streak at 7 p.m. Friday. He will be going up against Illinois pitcher Phil Haig (6-2, 4.48 ERA).
This series will be a match-up featuring the No. 25 and No. 27 teams in the country, and the series winner will hold the edge in the race for the Big Ten title.
To gain the upper hand, the Buckeyes must play smart, fundamental baseball if they expect to win games this weekend. Illinois has been playing very well as of late, winning eight of its last 10 games.
"This team set out to win a Big Ten championship this year and this is our chance to really go out and get it," OSU outfielder Zach Hurley said. "They're going to bring everything they have, so it's going to be a good weekend match-up."
Coach Bob Todd also stressed the fact that this is an important weekend for OSU.
"We have to get ready to play Illinois and obviously that's another big huge series for us," Todd said. "Our objective and our goal is to win a Big Ten championship."
Illinois is in the Big Ten lead, with a one-game lead against the Bucks and a half-game lead over Minnesota, going into this weekend. Illinois (31-14, 14-4 Big Ten), Minnesota (31-13, 13-4) and OSU (34-13, 13-5 Big Ten) are all battling it out for the top spot in the Big Ten.
And with only two weeks left in the regular season and fewer conference games left, things are heating up.
"Every game is going to be critical from here on out," Todd said.
The Buckeyes must get a couple wins this weekend if they expect to win the Big Ten Championship. With one Big Ten series left after this, the Buckeyes know they control their own destiny.
Game two begins at 4 p.m. Saturday and will showcase OSU pitcher Dean Wolosiansky and Illinois pitcher Ben Reeser. The series will conclude with a 2 p.m. game Sunday, highlighting OSU pitcher Eric Best and Illinois pitcher Bryan Roberts.
The Daily Illini
May 8th, 2009
The No. 25 Illini host No. 27 Ohio State this weekend in a three-game series that could decide the conference crown. Illinois (31-14, 14-4 Big Ten) is first in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes (34-13, 13-5) can rise to the top of the standings with a series win in Champaign.
Illinois junior catcher Aaron Johnson is a man who likes to be in control of things — like the race for the Big Ten title.
"It's all in our hands now," Johnson said. "As long as we keep winning it's not like there's anything anybody else can do."
Illinois has not won a Big Ten regular-season title since 2005. Despite the magnitude of the series, Johnson said the Illini won't approach the weekend differently than usual.
"You've got to look at what got you here," Johnson said. "We're just going to keep doing the same things we've been all year ... we really don't care who we're playing."
Ohio State boasts an intimidating trio of starting pitchers with a combined record of 24-5. Sophomores Alex Wimmers and Dean Wolosiansky will take to the mound Friday and Saturday, while senior lefty Eric Best will be expected to close the show in Sunday's series finale.
Johnson, who has batted .345 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs this year, said the Illinois offense is more than capable of scoring against the OSU aces.
"(Hitters) one through nine, we've been confident all year," Johnson said. "It seems like we just always find ways to score runs."
The Buckeyes boast a powerful batting order of their own, led by sophomore catcher Dan Burkhart and junior outfielder Michael Stephens. Burkhart is batting .380 with eight home runs and 51 RBIs this season, while his teammate Stephens is batting .364 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs on the season.
Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb added that the Illini and the Buckeyes have mutual respect for one another.
"They're a very good team," Hartleb said. "They're going to be very similar to us. They can swing the bats, they've got solid pitching and defensively they're good."
Sophomore lefty Phil Haig will start things off on the mound for Illinois Friday night. Senior Ben Reeser will throw Saturday, and freshman Bryan Roberts is slated to pitch Sunday. Roberts said he appreciates the trust Hartleb has shown in him this season.
"Coach has shown great confidence in me all year," Roberts said. "That's a big confidence booster for me."
Roberts also said the Illini pitching staff knows what it has to do to neutralize Burkhart, Stephens and company.
"If we're attacking hitters we know we can take care of business," Roberts said. "The problems for us start when we get behind in the count and start throwing pitches right down the middle. That's when we start getting hit."
Hartleb said pitching could determine which team is sitting atop the Big Ten standings come Monday morning.
"We need to be sharp, be down in the zone and use both sides of the plate," Hartleb said of his pitching staff.
The coach added, "Whoever pitches the best in each and every game will come out and win that given game."