Hoosiers visit Champaign for three-game series

Head coach Dan Hartleb thinks the supposed “rivalry” between Illinois and Indiana may be somewhat overhyped.

Maybe it’s because Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb and Indiana coach Tracy Smith are friends. Or maybe it’s because Eric Gordon and Kelvin Sampson never got into baseball. In any case, Hartleb thinks the supposed “rivalry” between Illinois and Indiana may be somewhat overhyped.

“I can’t say that they’re a bigger rival than anybody else,” Hartleb said. “There’s that rivalry because we’re both competitive, but there’s not anything nasty going on.”

The Illini (17-5), who currently hold sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, host Indiana (10-15, 1-1 Big Ten) this weekend in a three-game series at Illinois Field. The Hoosiers have struggled to begin the year, despite being a preseason favorite to win the conference. But Hartleb has already warned his players not to underestimate the Hoosiers.

“They’re a team whose record might not be that good yet,” Hartleb said. “But I believe they are as talented as any team in the Big Ten.”

The Hoosier pitching staff’s bright spot on the mound is junior Eric Arnett. The right-handed Arnett has five wins in six starts and leads the team with an ERA of 2.45.

Indiana’s offense, which exploded for 16 runs in a win against Cincinnati on Wednesday, is led by junior catcher Josh Phegley and freshman outfielder Andy Dickerson. Phegley is batting .400 on the season, and his 31 RBIs are good for first on the team. Dickerson, a Poway, Calif., native, is hitting .385 on the year with 29 RBIs and seven home runs. Hartleb said the Illinois pitchers are more than capable of slowing down the Hoosier attack.

“There’s been a bunch of teams that we’ve played that can swing the bats, and our pitching staff has played very well against all of them,” Hartleb said.

Phil Haig, who sat out last weekend’s series with Michigan State due to a groin injury, will start Friday’s contest for the Illini. Haig said his lineup and delivery might need some fine tuning before he gets out on the mound, but he will be able to use his full arsenal of pitches.

“My pitches are good to go, and I have all the confidence in the world in all of them,” Haig said.

Haig’s 2.57 ERA is good for third on the team, and Hartleb said he believes Haig will pick up right where he left off before getting injured.

“I’m very confident that he’ll go out and have a good outing,” Hartleb said. “If I wasn’t, we wouldn’t be starting him.”

Saturday’s starter has not been named yet due to the injury of senior right-hander Ben Reeser, but freshman Bryan Roberts will begin Sunday’s game on the mound for Illinois. Hartleb said he has been impressed with Roberts’ play and attitude throughout the year.

“(Roberts) has been very consistent, from the start of fall practice all the way to this point,” Hartleb said. “He always finds a way to get out of jams and puts himself in situations where he’s ahead of the count a lot.”

Roberts said he must step up his game this weekend, especially with Saturday’s pitching situation still up in the air.

“Losing Reeser is a huge deal,” Roberts said. “He’s 3-0. He goes out there and competes every game … it’s definitely going to hurt.”

Harlteb said Reeser’s status is day to day.

“Physically, I think he’s ready,” Hartleb said of Reeser. “But we have to make sure that he’s in the right mindset to go out and pitch.”

Hartleb also said the Illini should have a successful weekend, regardless of whether Reeser plays or not.

“We have some depth on the mound,” said Hartleb. “They’re one of the most talented teams (in the Big Ten), but I also think we’re in that category. I don’t think they’re any better than us.”