Illinois baseball shoots for 18th-straight win

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Illinois’ Will Krug (40) takes a swing at the ball during the baseball game vs. Indiana at Illinois Field on Friday, April 17. Illinois won 5-1.

The Illinois baseball program has made progress on and off of the diamond this season.

There have been new additions to Illinois Field this spring and the Illini are putting together a season that is the best in program history. Illinois’ home has a new video-screen scoreboard, but it also has something new on the outfield walls: a NCAA logo with a list of 10 years next to it and the Big Ten logo with 29 years next to it.

The new addition is a constant reminder of the goals the team set at the beginning of the year. With such an experienced team, the players knew they could make some noise this season and are well on their way to accomplishing those goals.

“If you’re not out here to be the best in the world at what you’re doing, then you’re wasting your time,” said outfielder Will Krug. “We had really high expectations for ourselves in the Big Ten and past that. But we expected a lot from ourselves and didn’t put the pressure on that came with (those) expectations. That’s why we’re able to succeed.”

Illinois (36-6-1, 13-1 Big Ten) is ranked No. 8 in the nation according to several polls and is projected to host a regional during the NCAA tournament. The team also broke the program’s winning streak record with its 17th straight win Sunday — the longest active streak in the nation.

Despite the high national ranking, the Big Ten title race isn’t Illinois’ to run away with. The Illini lead the conference standings, but Iowa only sits one game behind with a 30-11 overall record and a 13-2 mark in the Big Ten.

Ohio State and Maryland follow, with conference records of 12-3 and 11-4, respectively.

Of those teams, Illinois will only play Ohio State during the remainder of the regular season — the two will face off in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend. Iowa will play Michigan (27-17, 11-7), Minnesota (18-21, 7-11) and Rutgers (15-27-1, 5-10) while Illinois will play Ohio State, Rutgers and Nebraska (30-16, 6-9).

The Illini control their own destiny — if they win out, they will be the conference’s regular season champion.

“It doesn’t matter what Iowa does if we win,” head coach Dan Hartleb said.

The team will look to continue its historic run when it travels to Carbondale, Illinois, to play Southern Illinois on Tuesday. Illinois won two of three earlier in the season when the Salukis came to Illinois Field in March.

Southern Illinois (10-35, 5-10 MVC) is 7-20 since playing Illinois: Its pitching staff has a 6.30 ERA and has allowed 463 runs this season. The Salukis are led offensively by Parker Osborne, who is batting .324 with 19 RBIs and two home runs.

Tuesday’s game will be an in-state matchup and the players know that for Illinois to extend its winning streak to 18, they need to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

“I think we’re coming into our roles as a team,” said outfielder Casey Fletcher, who was named Big Ten co-player of the Week on Monday. “Each player knows what they have to do in order to be successful and I think that’s why we’ve been in stride these past couple of weeks.”

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