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OSU To Face A Challenge Against Nationally-Ranked Illinois

The No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-4) face yet another early season challenge as they host the No. 27 Illinois Fighting Illini (9-2-1) at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium this weekend.

d1baseball.com

The No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-4) enter a nine-game homestand starting Friday with a three-game series against the No. 27 Illinois Fighting Illini (9-2-1). Thanks to Mother Nature the two-game UNLV series was cancelled earlier this week, which means the Cowboys have not played a game since Sunday's defeat of Western Illinois.

Illinois Overview

The Illini have been one college baseball's nice surprises to start the 2015 season with nine wins already without even playing a home game. Key wins have come against West Virginia and Coastal Carolina, which are the team's last two victories.

Illinois is coached by Dan Hartleb, who is in his 10th season at the helm of the Illini. Hartleb has won 285 in his career, ranking fourth in school history.

Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark is the Illinois alum currently on an active MLB roster.

Projected Pitchers:

Friday: LHP Kevin Duchene (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Tyler Nurdin (0-1, 4.76 ERA)

Saturday: RHP Drasen Johnson (1-0, 0.87 ERA) vs. RHP Jon Perrin (1-2, 5.40 ERA)

Sunday: RHP John Kravetz (1-0, 1.77 ERA) vs. LHP Michael Freeman (2-0, 2.55 ERA)

Players to Watch

For Illinois it will be Friday starter Kevin Duchene who made his first start of the season last weekend, throwing seven shutout innings against Ball State. After serving a two week suspension to start the season, Duchene is ready to establish himself as the ace of this staff.

OSU has a lineup that is reliant on left-handed hitting with Tim Arakawa, Gage Green, and Kevin Bradley all hitting from the left side. A good left-handed pitcher can shut the Cowboys down if they get can get through the trio I just mentioned.

The player to watch for OSU will be senior C-OF Gage Green who is hitting .366 on the year with two home runs to start the season. Green will need to lead the Cowboys offensive attack against an Illinois pitching staff that has an ERA of 1.67 through 12 games.

Keys to Victory

1. Good outing from Tyler Nurdin

This might be a little bit too much to ask for, but if Nurdin can go at least five innings and allow two runs I would be very happy, basically if he can just keep the Cowboys in the game. However, Nurdin has yet to pitch five innings in each of his first three starts of the season, but maybe today will be the day. OSU needs to get a good outing from its Friday starter to get the momentum rolling for the weekend, especially when they are facing nationally-ranked opponents.

2. Hit the ball

This one might be oversimplified, but it's very true. The Cowboys have hit for a .277 team average so far this season, but they have struggled at times to string hits together. Illinois has had success early on this year because they have an extremely talented pitching staff, like I mentioned earlier, 1.67 collective ERA. It will be essential for the leaders of this team like Arakawa and Green to set the tone and get some base hits. If Conor Costello or Bradley send a ball out of the ballpark that would greatly help the cause as well.

3. Weather the storm

Of the six home games the Cowboys were supposed to have played by this point in the season, only one of those games has actually happened thanks to some late-February snow. Now I'm no meteorologist, but the weather forecast is favorable for these games to be played this weekend, but knowing the weather in Oklahoma, nothing is a guarantee.