Resiliency helps Illini baseball power through season

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Illinois’ Adam Walton (6) watches first base after slipping while attempting to dive during the game against Michigan at Illinois field, on Friday, April 11th, 2014. The Illini won 1-0.

The Illinois baseball team has been here before. 

Time and again this season the Illini have battled, both on and off the field, and throughout the season the team has showed its resiliency. 

Head coach Dan Hartleb said the team’s resiliency was on display in the series against Indiana that the Illini played over the weekend. Illinois dropped the first and third games of the three-game series, but Hartleb wasn’t disappointed with his team’s effort.

“Coming into the series when you have as many young guys as we have, I was really anxious and interested to see how we would handle things,” Hartleb said after Sunday’s game. “And I thought each and every day we came out to win.” 

“I didn’t think we had guys that were nervous. I didn’t think we had guys apprehensive. I liked our demeanor and I liked our makeup. We lost two games and got beat by a good team but it wasn’t a situation where we went out there and we had fear and we didn’t compete so with the young group I’m pleased with that.”  

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Illinois currently sits in second place in the Big Ten, but the road to where it is now hasn’t been easy. 

The Illini started the year 2-4 but were able to bounce back in the third weekend of the series, sweeping then-No. 23 Florida and Florida Gulf Coast in two games each.

Sophomore shortstop Adam Walton compared the Indiana series to the Florida series, a series where they won all four games, in the sense that the Illini are good enough to compete with either team. 

“We were a couple pitches away, a couple plays away in the field, a couple big hits, timely hits away from really making those one-, two-run games or even coming out on top,” Walton said of the Indiana series. “Saturday we showed a bunch of fight and showed we can compete with teams like that, just like we did with Florida earlier this year.”

The team’s resilience surfaced once again as the Illini had to deal with losing their No. 1 starter Kevin Duchene to forearm tightness in mid-March. 

The Illini responded to Duchene’s injury by going on four- and six-game winning streaks and starting the Big Ten schedule 9-3, the team’s best start in Hartleb’s nine years.

With three weeks to go in the regular season, the Illini are three games behind Indiana in the Big Ten standings. They’re tied for second with Nebraska, and their chances of a Big Ten title are slipping away, but the Illini have been here before. Illinois has been able to deal with the trials and tribulations of a baseball season to this point and sophomore starter Ryan Castellanos said he thinks the team will be able to respond the same way it has all season following the Indiana series. 

“We’re a resilient team,” Castellanos said. “We showed that (Saturday). We were in the game on Friday and had a tough loss but we came back and shut them down.” 

“We still believe in ourselves. We believe in our offense when we need to. We definitely believe in our pitching staff. We believe in our coaching. It’s a blow today but, like I said, we’re down, but we’re not out.” 

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.