Illinois travels to Evanston to battle Michigan in four-game series

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Cameron Krasucki

The Illinois men’s baseball team exits the dugout to celebrate a teammates home run during the game against Purdue April 18. Illinois will head to Evanston for a four-game series against Michigan this weekend in two double headers.

By Jared Ebanks, Staff Writer

Coming off of their first series sweep of the season, Illinois heads back on the road to Evanston for a four-game series against Michigan.

Illinois was originally supposed to face Northwestern as well, though the schedule has since been adjusted to a four-game set with Michigan after Northwestern paused all team activities for at least one week due to health and safety concerns within the program. 

Illinois (13-14) will now face Michigan (19-9) in back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday of this weekend. The first pitch is now scheduled for 11:30 a.m. both days, while games two and four of the four-game series will be played 40 minutes after the final out of game one of the day.

This will be the Illini’s second matchup of the season with the Wolverines, who dropped two of three against Rutgers last weekend. Illinois has gone 1-1 with Michigan this season. Hartleb can tell you, it’s nice to finally be going into a weekend with a winning streak.

The Illini sit one game away from .500 and have won five of their last seven games.

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    As Illinois remembers from its March 20 matchup with the Wolverines, Michigan’s bullpen is nothing to play around with – its top two pitchers, Steven Hajjar and Cameron Weston, rank fifth and eighth, respectively, in ERA in the conference.

    The Illini will likely face Hajjar, the fifth-best pitcher in the conference, along with both Weston (4-2, 3.00) and Jacob Denner (3-1, 4.00).

    It seems as if things are perfectly aligning for the Illini going into the final stretch of the season. Coming off their first no-hitter since 1985, the pitching staff and the hitters seem to have found a space where they can coexist consistently. Up to this point, it’s been one without the other.

    “That week was kind of the turning point,” said pitcher Riley Gowens. “And since then, like I said, in practice and stuff we’ve been really dialed in. And there have been bad days, but when there are bad days instead of making it or letting it turn into two or three bad days, we’re learning from it. And we’re making adjustments.”

    Andrew Hoffmann and Nathan Lavender each will still start a game on Saturday for the Illini. After leading the way in the first Illini no-hitter since 1985, Gowens will receive his seventh start of the season for game one on Sunday. Sunday’s game two pitcher has yet to be announced. 

    Hoffmann, who will start the first game of the series, enters the weekend (1-0, 3.77) after earning his first win of the season last Friday against the Boilermakers. Lavender (5-0, 3.55) will follow on the mound in game two, earning his fifth start of the season.

    While the start to this season hasn’t been what most anticipated, the development of this ball club off the field cannot be discounted. Hartleb has taken an extremely inexperienced staff and provided moments of maturity, clarity and growth. He’s turning these kids into young men for life. 

    “The thing that I think is important for athletes to understand, and I tell them, ‘This is everybody in life; there’s adversity we all go through,’” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “And there’s things that don’t go our way. And the very successful people in life are the ones that don’t sit in the corner and don’t pout about it. They hit it head on. And I refuse to let any group while I’m coaching just sit in a corner and feel sorry for themselves when things don’t go well.”

     

    @JaredEbanks

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