Baseball to host tough Buckeyes in season’s first Big Ten series



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team will host its first Big Ten series of the season this weekend, welcoming the Buckeyes of Ohio State to Illinois Field for a four-game series starting Friday night.

Coming off an impressive offensive display in an 11-4 win over Western Michigan on Tuesday that saw the Illini pull within one game of .500 at 10-11 (2-2 Big Ten), the Illini will finally look to get over the hump against one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

“We’ve got a great opportunity to play Ohio State at home and get ourselves in good position in the Big Ten,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I expect them to be toward the top of the conference and if we can win some games against them, then come tournament time it would really help us out.”

The No. 25-ranked Buckeyes enter the weekend with the best overall record in the Big Ten at 17-4 and are tied for second in the Big Ten at 3-1 after the first weekend of play.

The reason for Ohio State’s early season success is undoubtedly their balance of good hitting and good pitching.

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The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in hitting with a team batting average of .339 with all of their regular position players batting over .300 and seven players with 10 or more RBIs.

Even more impressive than the Buckeyes’ hitting has been their performance on the mound.

Ohio State has compiled a 3.59 team ERA in a conference known for its hitting and features four pitchers with ERAs under three.

The Buckeyes will send four left-handers to the mound against an Illini lineup that features six left-handed hitters.

Ohio State junior starter Cory Luebke will be the main attraction on the mound for the Buckeyes this weekend.

In six starts this season Luebke is 4-0 with one complete game and a Big Ten leading 39 strikeouts in 42.1 innings pitched.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of facing their pitchers this weekend,” junior second baseman Ryan Hastings said. “Last year when we played them we pretty much got dominated by all four of their pitchers. We’ll have to have a different approach this weekend and just have to battle and not give away at bats like we sometimes did last year.”

Illinois will counter the Buckeye south paws with four right-handers.

Sophomores Tanner Roark, Scott Shaw, Mike Stankiewicz and Aaron Martin will take the mound for the Orange and Blue, all hoping to improve on their outings last weekend at Purdue.

Both Shaw and Stankiewicz pitched complete games in the Illini’s doubleheader last weekend. Stankiewicz however, picked up a 2-1 tough luck loss in the back end of the doubleheader.

“We’re going to have to go right at hitters and with the weather being cold it will be a good opportunity to bust hitters inside,” Stankiewicz said. “We have to continue doing the things we’ve done all year and we can’t treat them any different than any other program we’ve faced.”