COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – There's a certain chipper feel to the air these days on the western side of the Tennessee Tech campus as the 2013 baseball season draws closer. Just one day before Opening Weekend, the Golden Eagles are ready to compete for an OVC title and will welcome Illinois for its first test of year, the first of two Big Ten foes slated to visit Cookeville this spring.
The Fighting Illini will travel south for the three-game series that begins Friday with a 3 p.m. CST contest at Bush Stadium at the Averitt Express Baseball Complex. The series will continue on Saturday with a 2 p.m. start time and conclude on Sunday in a 1 p.m. tilt.
These games will be the first between Tech and Illinois on the diamond. Admission is free to all Golden Eagle home games.
Tennessee Tech head coach Matt Bragga enters his 10th season at the helm of the Golden Eagles, having taken the squad to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in four of the past five seasons. He will be joined this season by assistants Brandon Turner (in his second year with the staff), Cody Church (first year), and Kyle Medley (volunteer assistant). Holding down the Director of Baseball Operations position in his sixth season is Larry Bragga.
Illinois enters the season returning 17 lettermen, including seven position starters and 13 pitchers. Headlining the veteran squad are twin brothers Jordan and Justin Parr and right-handed pitcher Kevin Johnson.
A junior first basemen, Jordan Parr returns as the leading hitter of the Illini after recording 70 hits for a .348 average and 45 RBI last season. His five home runs tied for the team lead while his .517 slugging percentage was also tops on the squad. Twin brother and senior left fielder Justin Parr batted .290 in 2012, chipping in three home runs and 38 RBI on 60 hits.
The ace for Illinois in 2012, senior righty Kevin Johnson makes his return as the leading ERA man from last season, recording a 3.97 mark over 88.1 innings pitched. He struck out 43 batters with just 27 walks.
The Fighting Illini are led by head coach Dan Harleb (in his eighth season at Illinois) and assisted by Eric Snider and Drew Dickinson.
The Golden Eagles return one of the OVC's best players in junior first baseman Zach Stephens. The Soddy-Davis High School product earned OVC preseason co-Player of the Year honors as well as NCBWA preseason third-team All-America honors earlier this spring. He led the team with 18 home runs, a .368 average, 52 RBI and 75 hits. His 18 jacks tied for sixth in the nation as well as earned him a trip to the 2012 College Home Run Derby.
Expected to start the season on hill is senior right-hander Tristan Archer. The returning ace earned four wins in 2012, recording a 4.04 ERA while striking out an impressive 76 batters in 89.0 innings pitched on the bump for the Golden Eagles.