Streaking baseball team to face IU

 

 

By David Just

If Illinois baseball head coach Dan Hartleb has his way, his team won’t change a thing as it goes up against the Indiana Hoosiers this weekend in a four-game conference series in Bloomington, Ind.

Ever since they were swept at the Quala-T Imprints Baylor Classic in Waco, Texas, during the first weekend in March, the Illini have been winners of 12 out of their last 15 and have outscored opponents 117-70.

“We’re approaching Indiana the way we’ve approached everything all year,” Hartleb said. “We’re not going to change anything. I think the guys are in a good frame of mind; we’re playing well right now, we just have to continue to stay on course.”

That course very nearly included a no-hitter Wednesday night against Saint Louis. It was a performance so dominating that it overshadowed the strides the offense has made to put runs on the board.

Illinois is averaging 7.9 runs in eight games since returning from its spring trip in Bradenton, Fla.

“The offense has been doing a good job of scoring runs,” junior outfielder Kyle Hudson said. “I think we’re doing a good job getting on the bases and being aggressive on the basepaths.”

That aggressive mentality has certainly been true of Hudson, who has stolen 15 bases on 18 attempts.

“Coach (Eric) Snider gets mad if I don’t run, so I gotta run every now and then,” said Hudson, who admitted he has a permanent green light on the basepaths.

The Illini swept Indiana last season but neither Hartleb nor Hudson is satisfied with that. Indiana enters the series with a 13-9 record and some offensive weapons of its own.

The Hoosiers have six position players batting better than .320, including sophomore catcher Josh Phegley’s .420 clip.

In short, Illinois’ sophomore starter Kevin Manson will have his work cut out for him when he takes the hill in the series opener.

But Hartleb is confident his pitchers are up to the task.

“We’ve been very consistent from a defensive standpoint, which has really helped our pitchers, who are starting to settle in,” Hartleb said. “We’ve also developed some depth in the staff.”

That depth includes Billy Barrett, who pitched six strong innings against Southern Illinois on Tuesday, allowing only two runs on seven hits.

Freshman starter Nick Chmielewski and relievers Lee Zerrusen and Wes Braun were part of Wednesday night’s near no-hitter.

Both give the Illini plenty of options in late-inning situations.

Friday’s game has been rescheduled for Monday with the series opener beginning at noon on Saturday.