Illinois baseball hosts Minnesota in four-game series this weekend



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team will begin the second half of its Big Ten schedule this weekend when it welcomes Minnesota for a four-game series at Illinois Field in Champaign.

The Illini will cap off a six-game home stand when they host the Gophers for a crucial series starting tonight. Losers of four of their last five Big Ten games and currently in fifth-place in the Big Ten with a 7-7 conference record, the Illini will hope to put themselves in better position to make the Big Ten tournament by knocking off the Gophers this weekend.

“This weekend is very important for us,” senior first baseman Mike Rohde said. “Minnesota is a very good team and they beat us in the Big Ten tournament last year, so we really don’t like them very much.”

However, picking up wins against Minnesota will be easier said than done.

The Gophers enter the weekend riding a six-game winning streak and have won 11 of their last 12 games. The Gophers’ 27-7 overall record and 9-2 Big Ten record currently have them in second-place in the conference.

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Minnesota’s success this season has been in large part due to its work on the mound and in the field.

The Gophers lead the Big Ten in pitching with a 3.61 team ERA and are second in the Big Ten in fielding with a .971 team fielding percentage.

“I don’t think their pitching is overpowering, but they are experienced and mature,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “But with our offense I feel we can get to any pitching staff. We just have to be patient and take advantage of the mistakes they make.”

While the Illini struggled on the mound in their Big Ten series at Iowa last weekend, giving up 37 runs in the final three games of the series, the Illini pitching staff seems to be back on track after its two mid-week games.

Eight Illini pitchers combined to give up just two earned runs and no extra base hits in the Illini’s games against Eastern Illinois and Blackburn College on Tuesday and Wednesday night, respectively.

“Our last two games our pitching staff had a lot of success so hopefully they will have gained some confidence heading into the weekend,” Rohde said.

Illinois will send sophomore pitcher Tanner Roark to the mound in tonight’s opener in hopes of continuing the pitching staff’s success. In his last two outings Roark has given up only three runs and has struck out 15 in 14 innings pitched.

“Lately I’ve come out and haven’t tried to overthrow anything like I sometimes did last year, and in my last two starts I’ve been able to come out and hit my spots,” Roark said. “Right now everyone is feeling pretty good. We have to take this series very seriously and get right after it in the first game and hopefully come away with three of four wins.”