Illinois baseball looks to rebound in midweek game against ISU

Illinois’ Adam Walton (6) watches first base after slipping while attempting to dive during the game against Michigan at Illinois field, on Friday. The Illini won 1-0.

By J.J. Wilson

The atmosphere was noticeably different in the Illinois clubhouse Monday afternoon before practice. 

Players and coaches seemed as focused as always, but they were quieter. The elation of the team’s win streak has dissipated since Michigan dealt Illinois baseball two consecutive losses over the weekend.

Four picked-off Illini base runners in Sunday’s series finale added no positives to the mood, either. 

Head coach Dan Hartleb isn’t worried about what happened, though. Right now, he said the focus is improving the team’s RPI and resume as they take to the road Tuesday night against Illinois State.

“We need to win midweek games to improve our RPI,” Hartleb said. “The things that we didn’t do well this weekend, I think we should do better tomorrow. That’s going to be a point of emphasis, to progress in a number of areas.”

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Over the weekend, Michigan pitchers shut down Illinois’ aggressive on-base approach and forced them to play more reserved than usual.

Illinois State, however, poses more of a challenge for Illinois at the plate. The Redbirds rank second in the nation in terms of strikeouts per nine innings, averaging 9.3.

Most of the Redbirds’ 262 strikeouts come from their main, three-man rotation. But Tuesday’s game is expected to feature a less experienced starter.

When the two teams met on March 26, Illinois took advantage of ISU senior Cam Verbeke, who made his first collegiate start. Verbeke surrendered three runs on five hits and struck out just two Illini batters in just 2 2/3 innings.

Illinois will use a similar strategy in starting freshman pitcher Cody Sedlock for just the second time this season. His only other start this season came against the Redbirds, which he said means he’ll be familiar with the lineup. 

He also knows this game won’t be like the last one.

“It’s going to be a little different role than what I’m used to over the course of this season,” Sedlock said. “Last time, I knew I was only going to pitch two or three innings because it was going to be a staff day. My approach this game is going to be a lot different.”

This time Sedlock will go as long as the Illini need him. Last weekend, Sedlock was one of six pitchers from Illinois’ 16-man staff who didn’t make an appearance. He was also the only starter left out beside Kevin Duchene, who is still ruled out with forearm tightness.

Sedlock’s best outing came in relief in the series opener against Xavier on March 21, when he allowed just two hits and struck out five in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. His 2.29 ERA this season rates second best among the starters. 

“Losing those two games last weekend in a row, this is a really big game to try and get us back on track going into the weekend,” he said.

While the Illini won their last meeting 6-1, the Redbirds have a higher RPI, which ranks them at 38th in the country while the Illini sits at 95th.

“Illinois State’s a really good team,” first baseman David Kerian said. “It’ll be a good test right now to see if we can rebound and get back to where we need to be.”

J.J. can be reached at [email protected]

and @Wilsonable07.