Freshman outfielder earns Big Ten honor after weekend

 

 

By David Just

Sometimes one hit is more than enough to awaken a slumping hitter. For Casey McMurray, 11 hits and Big Ten Player of the Week honors did the trick.

The freshman outfielder earned his first Big Ten honor Monday after going 11-for-15 in four games against Penn State over the weekend. He reached base at a .750 clip and scored 12 of Illinois’ 49 runs in the series.

McMurray had struggled the previous week, and head coach Dan Hartleb was particularly concerned about his 0-for-4 performance against Western Illinois.

“I thought Casey swung the bat about as poor as I’ve ever seen him swing the bats last Wednesday,” Hartleb said after Sunday’s game. “That was a concern I had coming into the weekend series. And then he comes out and he’s on fire. It just goes day to day. Hitters can look bad one day, and if you have a good attitude and are resilient you always have the opportunity to come out and be productive the next.”

“I was just seeing the ball well that weekend,” McMurray added, “concentrating more and opening my eyes a bit more. I just told myself to relax, concentrate and get back to it.”

It is the second week in a row that an Illini has received Player of the Week honors, with second baseman Joe Bonadonna earning the award last week for his performance in Minnesota. It’s also the first back-to-back Player of the Week honors earned by Illini since Drew Davidson and Dusty Bensko did it on April 5 and 11, 2005.

McMurray is also the first Illinois freshman to earn the honor since Craig Marquie did it on March 31, 1997.

“It’s a great feeling,” McMurray said. “I had no idea until I came to the park. While I was being interviewed I got some shaving cream thrown in my face.”

McMurray’s batting average rose 53 points to .358 over the weekend and he is now hitting .429 in Big Ten games.

McMurray is six plate appearances shy of qualifying for a spot on the Big Ten batting leaderboard, but his robust .429 average would currently tie him for fifth in the conference with Michigan’s Kevin Cislo.

He would also be the only freshman on that list.

Three other Illini currently appear in the Big Ten’s top hitters for average: Daniel Webb, .443; Kyle Hudson, .418; and Bonadonna, .403.

“It just shows how our offense is consistent up and down the lineup and we got power in the middle and guys who can get on base,” McMurray said. “It’s good to keep the Big Ten Player of the Week in our clubhouse. Hopefully someone else can get hot this weekend and we can get another one.”