Illini baseball looks to upcoming national ranking

By Jason Grodsky

This weekend the Illinois baseball team will find out exactly where it stands on the national stage.

The Illini (2-1) will travel to Waco, TX., to play in the Quala-T Imprints Baylor Classic and will square off against one of the best teams in the nation, the Baylor Bears (4-0).

Coming off two wins on opening weekend, the Illini return to the state of Texas and to play Baylor on Friday at 6:30 p.m., before matching-up with Stephen F. Austin on Saturday at 2 p.m. and concluding the tournament against Illinois-Chicago at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Baylor, ranked No. 13 in the Baseball America Top 25 poll after the first weekend of the season, will be the first big test the Illini face this season, which could be revealing for this year’s squad.

“We’re excited to see how we stack up against some of the top teams in the country,” junior pitcher Ben Reeser said. “The competition this weekend will be very stiff, and we’re going to get the opportunity to see how we match up.”

The last time Illinois faced Baylor was in the 1998 postseason, when the Illini prevailed 14-5 in the South I Regional in Gainesville, Fla. on their way to the regional championship game.

If the Illini are to have similar results, they will need a repeat performance on the mound from their pitching staff.

Last weekend the Illini hurlers gave up just six runs in three games, the 13th-fewest runs allowed in the first three games of a season in school history.

Junior starter Scott Shaw will get the start versus the Bears and will be opposed by ace Kendal Voltz, who is 1-0 after an eight-inning, four-hit and 10-strikeout performance against Purdue.

“We’re going to go out there with our best game against (Baylor), and we have a good shot at beating them with the talent level we have on this team,” junior pitcher Aaron Martin said. “As long as we hustle and limit mistakes, we’ll have a chance.”

Martin will take the ball in the finale again this weekend against Illinois-Chicago after combining with Reeser for a 1-0 win last Sunday. Reeser earned the first save of his career in the game against Lamar, working four innings and allowing just two base runners and tying his career high with five strikeouts.

Both pitchers, along with the rest of the pitching staff, will be looking for a little more run support this weekend than they received in Illinois’ first three games.

The Illini scored eight runs and hit just .228 with only one extra base hit on opening weekend, but believe they will only get better as the season continues.

“Last weekend we came in (having not seen) any live pitching and we had a lot of new guys in the line up who didn’t really know what to expect at this level,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “But as things continue and we progress, I think we’ll get better and better at the plate.”