Illinois sophomore shortstop Josh Parr had never struggled like that. After moving from second base to his natural position at shortstop before the season, Parr endured a slow start at the plate. Whether it was the pressure of making the position change or replacing former Illini star Brandon Wikoff, Parr learned a lesson after finishing strong.

Illinois sophomore shortstop Josh Parr had never struggled like that.

After moving from second base to his natural position at shortstop before the season, Parr endured a slow start at the plate. Whether it was the pressure of making the position change or replacing former Illini star Brandon Wikoff, Parr learned a lesson after finishing strong.

"I'd never had a season like this before,'' Parr said. "At the start, I was just so frustrated. This is a blessing in disguise. It's great I worked my way out of it.

"Things have been up and down. You can't let that carry into your personal life. As an athlete, your judged on performance. Sometimes, you get caught up in that, and you bring that into other areas of your life -- like being frustrated at work, and you take it out on the wife and kids.''

After Illinois concluded the season Saturday with a 26-26 record overall and a 10-14 mark in the Big Ten, the Illini failed to earn a bid to the six-team Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2004. Following one season with the Springfield Sliders in the Prospect League, Parr will follow Wikoff's footsteps and play for the Madison (Wis.) Mallards in the Northwoods League this summer.

Filling Wikoff's shoes became an issue for Parr, he said. A fifth-round selection by the Houston Astros following his senior season, Wikoff moved up to the Lancaster (Calif.) Jethawks in the advanced Class A California League. Parr, who prepped at Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central, and Wikoff, the former Bartonville Limestone star, formed a Peoria-area infield combination last season with the Illini.

"Brandon is a heck of a ballplayer,'' Parr said. "I did have some big shoes to fill. How could you not think about it? He's a Peoria guy. I'm from Peoria, too. It crossed my mind. I might not ever hit as well as he did. He has one of the purest swings I've ever seen.

"I do hope at the end of this year or next year, they say Josh Parr is just another great shortstop from Peoria. That's what I would like to hear.''

In Illinois' first 12 games this season, Parr hit .170. In the final 40 games, he hit .315. Parr led Big Ten shortstops in hitting (.337) and runs scored (21) in conference play. Instead of just enjoying another strong season, Parr learned how to overcome by learning how to make adjustments.

"It's baseball,'' Parr said. "I came out with the mentality that I've done this. Now, I can do this. In high school, I had a pretty successful career and had a successful freshman year (at Illinois). I got off to a slow start. I learned about perseverance. It's been a great learning experience as far as working my average back up, coming in early and looking at the video with (assistant coach Eric Snider) and talking to coach (Dan) Hartleb about at bats.''

Overall, Parr finished the season hitting .279. He was the only Illini to start all 52 games. 

Meanwhile, sophomore center fielder Willie Argo set the school record for a single season with 41 stolen bases, breaking the record with a steal in the fifth inning of the season-ending loss to Indiana Saturday. Argo is a likely high round draft choice following his junior season next spring.

Hartleb is expected to meet with athletic director Ron Guenther about a contract extension. Hartleb completed his fifth year as Illini coach.

MEN'S GOLF: Illinois seeks to advance in the NCAA championships after qualifying for the national meet for the third straight season for the first time since 1951. After placing 21st in 2009 and 17th in 2008 in the national meet, Illinois shoots for a spot among the top eight teams following 54 holes of qualifying at The Honors Course in suburban Chattanooga, Tenn.

The final eight teams battle in match play with quarterfinal, semifinal and championship rounds determined in head-to-head play between competing teams. Illinois plays Cog Hill in Lemont on Wednesday and Olympia Fields on Thursday. The NCAA meet is June 1 to 6.

The last time the course hosted the NCAA championships, Tiger Woods won the title in 1996 for Stanford.

SOFTBALL: Illinois won two NCAA tournament games in the same season for the second time in school history, but Illinois went 2-2 with a pair of losses to ninth-seeded Missouri in double-elimination play in the sub-regional.

Illinois finished 45-8 overall and tied the single-season school record for victories. Junior second baseman Danielle Zymkowitz set a school record with 36 stolen bases. Coach Terri Sullivan was named the Big Ten coach of the year.

IN OTHER NEWS: In women's basketball, Illinois will host North Carolina State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Assembly Hall on Dec. 1. … A limited number of season football tickets in the horseshoe go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $77 for the six home games. Tickets can be purchased at the athletic ticket office on Assembly Hall's west side, phone (866-ILLINI-1) or online at fightingillini.com. … Illinois' Andrew Riley and Angela Bizzarri were named Big Ten track athletes of the year. Riley won the 100-meter dash and the 110 hurdles. Bizzarri, a three-time NCAA champ, won the 1,500 and 5,000.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com