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Iowa faces a border rival in a key early series in Big Ten action.

UI Baseball

Iowa began a six-game home stand with Wednesday's homer-fueled 9-1 win over Milwaukee and it's no stretch to label this a pivotal part of the schedule. The Hawkeyes sit at 12-14 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, but they've been very good so far at home (6-1), so the need to take advantage of these games at Duane Banks Field and start piling up wins.  Iowa's hopes of making the NCAA Tournament aren't looking good right now (they have an RPI of 130 and while that number isn't everything, it does matter) and they might still come down to Iowa winning the Big Ten Tournament in order to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament (you only get so much boost from beating Big Ten opponents, unfortunately).  But for now all Iowa can do is try to string together some wins, starting with this weekend series against the Illini.


Illinois was an excellent team last year -- they tore through the Big Ten with a 50-10-1 record, including 21-1 in Big Ten play.  They lost some key players from that team, though, and unsurprisingly they've struggled more this season. Like Iowa, they opened the Big Ten season with a series win (beating Penn State 2-1 at home) before going on the road and suffering a series loss (dropping two of three at Nebraska last weekend). Iowa and Illinois have a handful of common opponents: Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, and Indiana State. Iowa went 2-3 against those teams, while Illinois was just 1-4 against those same teams.

Illinois has the second-worst batting average in the conference (.253, ahead of only Purdue) and they're not hitting for a lot of power when they do hit the ball, either (their .359 slugging percentage is fourth-lowest in the league). They rank near the bottom of the league in on-base percentage, runs scored, hits, and total bases.  Iowa's pitching has been very up-and-down this season, but this could be a good series for the Hawkeyes to get some momentum going on the mound. Illinois has two hitters batting over .300 (and another, the wonderfully-named Anthony Drago, hitting .299) in Jason Goldstein (.347 BA, .486 SLG, .443 OBP) and Dan Rowbottom (.300 BA, .343 SLG, .388 OBP). Drago leads the team in home runs (4) and doubles (8).

Illinois' pitching stats are better than their hitting stats, but they're still not exceptional -- their team ERA (4.18) is smack in the middle of the conference (7th) and they're below-average in opponent batting average (.265, 9th) and strikeouts (189, 10th). That said, while their team pitching stats aren't anything exceptional, they do have some good individual starting pitchers, as we'll see below.

Friday's game postponed due to weather; there's going to be a doubleheader tomorrow.


Game One: Illinois (12-14, 3-3) at Iowa (12-14, 3-3) -- Saturday, 12:30 PM CT

Iowa: RHP C.J. Eldred (SO, 2-3, 2.51 ERA)

Illinois: RHP Cody Sedlock (JR, 4-1, 3.50 ERA)

This is a match-up of both teams' respective aces. Eldred is coming off back-to-back complete games (though Iowa won just one of those starts) and he has been looking very sharp over his last few starts. Sedlock leads Illinois in wins (4), innings pitched (43.2), and strikeouts (52 -- most in the Big Ten, in fact), but he does have a 3.50 ERA, worst among Illinois' three starters.  He's been tagged by opposing hitters a bit. If Iowa hitters can avoid swinging and missing (or just watching strikes go by; the leads the Big Ten with 16 batters struck out looking), they might be able to do a little damage against him.

Game Two: Illinois (12-14, 3-3) at Iowa (12-14, 3-3) -- Saturday, ??? PM CT

Iowa: RHP Tyler Peyton (SR, 1-3, 4.66 ERA)

Illinois: LHP Doug Hayes (SO, 3-2, 3.14 ERA)

Peyton struggled with arm issues early in the season, but has looked sharper in his last two starters; Iowa will need that improved form to continue in this one.  Along with Sedlock, Hayes has been Illinois' other main pitcher, starting seven games and throwing 43.0 innings so far. He's not the strikeout artist that Sedlock is (just 29), but he's holding opposing batters to a .212 average.

Game Three: Illinois (12-14, 3-3) at Iowa (12-14, 3-3) -- Sunday, 1 PM CT

Iowa: RHP Nick Gallagher (SO, 3-2, 2.89 ERA)

Illinois: RHP Cole Bellair (FR, 0-1, 2.48 ERA)

Gallagher is replacing Iowa's usual Sunday starter, Calvin Mathews, who has been in a hellaciously poor run of form lately.  I don't know if it's injury-related or not, but it's earned him a bit of time off. It's hard to argue against giving him a break, though, after he gave up four runs on four hits (including three home runs in four batters) in just 0.2 innings of work on Sunday. Gallagher has made just one start this year (he lasted just 1.1 innings against Dallas Baptist after giving up five runs), but he has looked better in a long relief role in Big Ten play -- he's 1-0 with a 1.69 in Big Ten play, giving up two runs and seven hits over 10.2 innings. Bellair has appeared in nine games for Illinois, although he's only started four. His 2.48 ERA is best on the team, though, and he's holding opposing batters to .223 this year -- hopefully Iowa's bats can get something going against him.


All three games will be available on Hawkeye All-Access ($), and GameTracker. Friday and Sunday's games will also be available on BTN Plus ($). You can also follow @UIBaseball on Twitter for regular updates.

We'll try to post updates in the comments, but feel free to post your own, too!