Seniors bid farewell against Michigan

Seniors bid farewell against Michigan

By Jason Grodsky

Seven seniors will play their final home games of their career when the Illini baseball team squares off against Michigan at Illinois Field this weekend.

Seniors Joel Barickman, Brain Blomquist, Trevor Huisinga, Dave Schultz, Andy Sigerich, Jake Stewart and Matt Whitmore will be honored before Sunday’s game in a pre-game ceremony for their accomplishments throughout their careers as Illini.

“Playing our last games here will be exciting but sad at the same time,” Huisinga said. “I’m going to miss the atmosphere the most. For the past few years we have had great home crowds. It’ll be a change not to be able to walk out on this field every day.”

All of the seniors except Schultz, who transferred from Creighton University to Illinois prior to the start of this season, played a role in the Illini’s Big Ten Championship season last year. But even though Schultz wasn’t a part of last year’s team, his impact on this year’s team has been felt. Schultz is leading this year’s Illini in hits, RBIs and home runs.

Of the seven seniors, five are pitchers for the Illini, including this weekend’s game one and game four starters, Matt Whitmore and Brian Blomquist. In his final season, Whitmore has complied a team best 2.48 ERA with a 2-0 record and is holding opposing batters to a dismal .207 batting average.

“All of the seniors have given us quality efforts,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “They have done a great job with leadership during the games, at practices and off the field. It’s been a very good group during their stay at Illinois.”

As a class the seniors have complied 107 wins throughout their career to this point, and all of them hope to extend that win total and make a run at back-to-back Big Ten Championships.

“If we could win another title I don’t think there would be a better way to end,” Huisinga said. “If we can come out and upset the first place team, that could really help us a lot.”

The seniors and the rest of the Illini will get their best opportunity to make their final push at defending last year’s Big Ten title this weekend when the Illini welcome the Wolverines to Illinois Field for a four-game series. Michigan comes into the weekend at 27-15 and co-leads the Big Ten at 14-6 with Northwestern.

Illinois sits in fourth place in the Big Ten at 10-10 in conference play with three series left in the Big Ten, including this weekend’s set with the Wolverines. The Illini however, were just 2-6 against Ohio State and Northwestern – the two teams besides Michigan that lie ahead of the Illini in the Big Ten standings – making this weekend’s series with Michigan crucial for the Illini if they are to make a run at their second-straight title.

“This is a really big weekend for us,” Whitmore said. “Michigan is up on top and if we can beat them three of four times, it’ll put us right up there. And hopefully with a couple of wins by some other teams against Ohio State and Northwestern, it will help our chances of repeating as Big Ten Champions.”

The Wolverines are led by junior shortstop Leif Mahler and freshman pitcher Chris Fetter. Mahler leads Michigan in hitting with a .366 batting average and Fetter is second in the Big Ten with a 2.13 ERA.

Illinois and Michigan split last year’s series at Illinois Field, but the Wolverines lead the all-time series with a 122-93-2 record.

“Michigan is a very solid team,” Hartleb said. “If you look at their stats they are a very good hitting team and have speed. I expect them to be a good team, but at the same time the way we have been playing over the last couple weeks I think we are a very solid team.”