Illini baseball season review, end-of-season awards

_Editors note: This article is part of The Daily Illini’s year in review edition. These articles are meant to round-up the most important news of the academic year, Fall 2010 through Spring 2011._

*Comeback Player of the Year — Pete Cappetta*

Cappetta exploded onto the scene as a sophomore in 2009, finishing the year with a .384 batting average and 41 starts. The following season the affable outfielder sunk a full 102 points to .262 while making five more errors than his spotless 2009 campaign.

However, after making the full-time switch to leadoff and second base — an unexpected niche for the cannon-armed senior ­— Cappetta went on a tear. Since his April 13 start against Southern Illinois at second, Cappetta has 27 hits in 14 games to raise his average to .324, all after collecting just seven hits through the team’s first 26 games. Cappetta was named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week after faring 8-for-12 in a series win over Northwestern from April 29 to May 1.

“I just brought a lot of confidence into (this season), knowing that this is my last year and I just wanted to leave this place with a good impression,” Cappetta said.

“This is really one of my better streaks, and I’m just really happy that it’s coming at an important time for our team and I’m able to get on base with these guys and start things up.”

*The One That Got Away — March 5’s 5-3 loss at Stetson*

The Illini’s third trip to Florida — this time to Deland for the Bright House Invitational — was in its entirety among the season’s greatest disappointments. The three-game slate marked the only time all season the Illini were swept in a series or round robin. It all could have been forgotten, however, had they pulled off a win against host Stetson. The Illini failed to pick up the resume-booster when they committed two errors, a vitriolic number for the group that has meant near-certain doom in 2011. Despite getting six and one third innings of two-run ball from John Anderson, the Illini fell 5-3 after mustering just six hits. Since the Bright House Invitational, Stetson has established itself as one of the top mid-major teams in the country. Baseball America has the Hatters (36-10) at No. 15 in their most recent poll, while the Atlantic Sun power came in at No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN poll.

*Biggest surprise — John Anderson*

If you haven’t read the feature story on Anderson written by my colleague “Dan Miller-McLemore”:, do yourself a favor and take a trip to the DI website. Anderson has a remarkable history that has seen him go from a walk-on spurned in two different sports to a club baseball star to one of head coach Dan Hartleb’s most dependable horses. Anderson came into the season having pitched 50.1 innings — zero of them in starts — but the crafty fifth-year senior put a vice grip on the No. 2 spot for the duration of the season.

*Low point in the season — March 18 vs. Northern Illinois in Carbondale, Ill.*

The Illini hit rock bottom in mid-March, losing to Central Michigan, Columbia, Western Kentucky (twice) and a stinging pair of games against then-listless Northern Illinois to drop them to 4-10. The Huskies began the year 0-10 but moved to 4-10, including a pair of wins over the Illini on March 17 and 18. The March 17 game saw the Illini get shut out 3-0, while Game Two of the series ended in a 15-14 loss in which John Anderson was pulled after recording just three outs.

*High point in the season — May 8 vs. Ohio State*

The Illini won their fourth Big Ten series of the season in grand fashion this weekend when they took two of three games from the Buckeyes to keep them afloat in the Big Ten Tournament race. Harleb’s group plated 31 runners combined over the weekend and got another quality outing from third starter Corey Kimes in the rubber match Sunday. The series win entered the Illini into a deadlock with the Buckeyes at 10-8 in conference play.

“I think we’re more relaxed, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Hartleb said after Sunday’s game. “I think that the way you can tell that is we’ve swung the bats so well and in situations where we’re getting good at-bats and doing a good job, so I just think we’re very focused, which we’ve been all year.”

*Newcomer of the Year — Justin Parr*

“Parr”: was lightly recruited out of Illinois Valley Central High School, but a successful year at Parkland College in 2010 earned him a spot with brother Josh on the Illini roster. After a rough stretch in which he dipped below the Mendoza line, Parr now leads the Big Ten in in-conference batting average with a scalding .455 mark. Parr is just one of the many talented infielders who will return next season, including fellow sophomore Brandon Hohl, junior shortstop Josh Parr and junior catcher Adam Davis.

*Most consistent — Josh Parr, Brandon Hohl*

These two don’t receive as much attention as they deserve simply because they play at such an even keel with few peaks and even fewer valleys. Parr and Hohl have solidified the left side of the infield defensively as well as in the offensive lineup. Parr has trimmed his errors at shortstop from 26 in 2010 to just five this season, while Hohl’s team-high 10 errors are as misleading a stat as any, as he has made perhaps more highlight-reel plays than anyone on the team. Parr has been remarkable at the plate with two outs this season, while Hohl was eighth in the Big Ten with 32 RBIs entering the Ohio State series.

*Gold Glove — Outfielders Willie Argo, Davis Hendrickson, Casey McMurray*

The outfield group, led by centerfielder Argo, has committed just four errors this season with numerous diving catches to go with it. Sunday it was Hendrickson getting a standing ovation after he dove into the wall in right field for a well-hit Ohio State ball.

“I know I personally take a huge amount of responsibility for balls that land in my area that I don’t catch … To be honest I think it comes from playing a lot of sports when I was a little kid,” said Hendrickson, whose father, Mark, is the head football coach at Western Illinois.

“Like I said, I played a lot of football when I was younger, I played catch with a baseball when I was younger. I just think I always had a natural knack to go after and get balls, like in football with punts and stuff like that.”