Illinois baseball prepares for three-game series against No. 18 Southern Mississippi

Junior+infielder+Drake+Westcott+follows+through+on+a+swing+during+a+game+against+Nebraska+on+May+14.+The+Illini+are+currently+2-2+and+this+weekend%2C+they+will+face+off+against+the+Golden+Eagles+of+Southern+Mississippi.

Sidney Malone

Junior infielder Drake Westcott follows through on a swing during a game against Nebraska on May 14. The Illini are currently 2-2 and this weekend, they will face off against the Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi.

By Adam Rosen, Staff Writer

Illinois baseball (2-2) will travel down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to take on the No. 18 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (4-0) in its second weekend of the season.

Illinois started with two wins against Youngstown State last weekend before falling to No. 6 Wake Forest in back-to-back blowouts.

Early on in the season, it’s all about fixing mistakes. One of the many issues, according to Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb, was the Illini’s struggle with pitching and finding the open field while runners are on base. 

“We need to throw more quality strikes on a consistent basis,” Hartleb said. “We need to put the ball in play on a more regular basis.”

Illinois was able to reach base via walk 18 times during last weekend’s matchups. However, the Illini still struggled with plate discipline, striking out in 54 at-bats last weekend. 

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“We struck out way too many times,” Hartleb said. “But we also had a lot of new guys on the field, so I’m hopeful that it’s one of those situations where you need to get your feet wet.”

However, Hartleb did praise the team for their performance during the season opener, especially the pitching performance. 

“I thought overall our starting pitching showed a lot of bright spots,” Hartleb said. “Also, some guys out of the bullpen showed they can be guys we can count on.”

The match-up against Southern Mississippi features another ranked opponent for Illinois. After dropping the series to its first major test of the season, the Illini are hoping to elevate their game to match that of the ranked Golden Eagles.

“They’re really good, and it will force us to elevate our game,” Hartleb said. “We can’t make mistakes, and I want our guys to experience that. It’s the expectation that we play at that level on a regular basis.”

For Illinois, redshirt junior Riley Gowens is the probable starter for Friday, a week after he had a career-high in strikeouts with 11. The rest of the weekend’s probable starters are juniors Jack Crowder and Jack Wenninger. For the Golden Eagles, the probable starters are Tanner Hall, Matt Adams and Niko Mazza. 

This is the first matchup between the two teams in program history and the first of two series against teams in the Sun Belt conference. Led by senior infielder Branden Comia’s 44-game on base streak, the Illini will have to do a lot to take down a talented Golden Eagles team. 

The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m., 2 p.m. and noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively.

 

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