Illinois baseball ready to host Big Ten foe Indiana

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Illinois’ Casey Fletcher (3) lines up for the swing during the baseball game vs. Purdue at Illinois Field on Sunday, April 13. Illinois won 2-1.

By Joey Figueroa

Following Tuesday’s dramatic comeback win over Illinois State, the Illinois baseball team will set its sights on this weekend’s series with Indiana at Illinois Field.

Illinois (30-6-1, 8-1 Big Ten) will look to extend its 11-game winning streak against Indiana (21-12, 5-6), which has won three of its last four games.

The Illini are in the midst of their best stretch of the season, and even though their past few victories have been close calls, head coach Dan Hartleb likes that his team keeps finding ways to win.

“We’ve still got that belief that we’re going to win every game, and guys keep picking each other up,” Hartleb said. “When the pitching hasn’t done what they need to do, the hitting has come up, and we’ve made some great defensive plays.”

Hartleb said scoring without getting hits is one of the overlooked aspects of the Illini’s winning streak.

During Tuesday’s eighth-inning comeback, senior outfielder Casey Fletcher drove in the tying run with a one-out routine groundball. Senior outfielder Will Krug drove in the go-ahead run with a simple groundout to shortstop in Illinois’ 2-1 win over Purdue on Monday.

Small ball has also been a major factor in the team’s recent success — sacrifice bunts led to scoring in the seventh and eighth innings of Tuesday’s win.

The Illini have prided themselves on coming up with wins in multiple ways, and Krug said it helps the players’ confidence in each other.

“It’s awesome,” Krug said. “It’s great team chemistry, and we know were always in it.”

The Hoosiers will look to spoil the Illini’s streak when they come to Champaign for this weekend’s Big Ten matchup. Indiana took last season’s series 2-1, but Illinois has won eight of the last games against the Hoosiers at Illinois Field.

Before their 6-2 loss to Indiana State on Tuesday, the Hoosiers swept Rutgers in a three-game series over the weekend. Indiana began Big Ten play dropping three straight, but are 5-3 in conference games since.

In the Big Ten, Indiana is third in batting average and fifth in ERA. Its lineup is led by a pair of seniors, Scott Donley and Casey Rodrigue, who lead the team in batting average and RBI, respectively. The pitching staff is led by reliever Luke Harrison, who has allowed just three runs while striking 34 batters in 27 2/3 innings this season.

Illinois has played nine games in the last 12 days, so after a much-needed day off on Wednesday, Hartleb expects continued success this weekend.

“Hopefully they’ll catch up on some things from an academic stand point and get a little time away from baseball and get a little bit of rest,” Hartleb said. “Then we need to have a good practice and be ready for this weekend.”

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