FIRST LOOK: Illinois-Chicago

Heading into Friday night's game against Illinois-Chicago, who should A&M baseball fans be prepared to look for? What are the Flames' biggest strengths? Do they have a shot at the upset over the top-seeded Aggies? Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a first look at the Flames.

The Team
The University of Illinois-Chicago brings a season record of 34-20 into regional play. They finished 17-6 in the Horizon league, good enough for their regular season title, and swept through the league tournament to claim the automatic bid. The College Station regional is their fourth all-time, with the previous three coming in 2003, 2005, and 2007. That 2007 club traveled to Long Beach as the fourth-seed and upset the top-seeded Dirtbags, but dropped their next contest with UCLA and a rematch with LBSU to be eliminated.

At the plate
UIC hit .310 for the season and average 6.29 runs per contest. Seven everyday players are hitting above .300, led by Brett Schaefer (.384-10-58). The Flames are very aggressive on the basepaths, swiping 92 bags in 127 tries this year (nearly two per game), and average more than one sacrifice bunt per contest. They are not a big power hitting team (Schaeffer's ten homers lead, with second place coming in at four), and don't strikeout often relative to the number of walks they take (247-187). Their on-base percentage is of .394 is solid but not spectacular.

On the Hill
The Flames bring a 4.54 ERA into the weekend, and opponents are batting .290 against them. The statlines suggest that this is not a power pitching club, with just 238 strikeouts to 168 walks. Their projected Friday starter, Mike Kool, has just 33 Ks and has allowed 101 hits in 87.1 innings pitched. Their bullpen is rather shallow, with just four players having thrown more than 23 innings, but that group has a slightly better than team average ERA at 4.48. Their closer is Adam Worthington, who has five saves and a 2.98 ERA and is being hit at a paltry .233 clip.

Around the Horn
UIC brings a .962 fielding percentage into the weekend, which is traditionally a bit low, but it's hard to properly nuance that number since their home park has field turf. Opponents have been quite successful on the basepaths against the Flames, swiping 37 bags in 56 tries. Potential base stealers have succeeded at 70% against Friday night's projected catcher, Kevin Coddington, and at 75% against Kool. Their catchers have allowed just four passed balls and helped pitchers throw just 36 wild pitches.

Of Note
The Flames and Aggies share two opponents on the season, Stephen F. Austin and Baylor. A&M went 5-0 against that pair, while UIC went 1-1 (9-3 win over SFA, 5-4 loss to Baylor – both in Waco). They played just five games against teams in the 2008 NCAA tournament, losing all five (three to Tulane, two to Vanderbilt), and went 2-1 in their three games played in the state of Texas (Baylor tournament). UIC played 12 doubleheaders this season, earning a 17-7 record in those contests, and are just 8-14 away from home.

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