History lies on the line with Illinois’ first Big Ten play at Nebraska

By Adam Rosen, Assistant Sports Editor

The Illini (10-7) travel to the cornfields of Lincoln, Nebraska for their first Big Ten series of the season. Taking the field against the Illini will be the Cornhuskers of Nebraska, who possess a record of 11-7-1.

The Illini won their most recent game against the Bradley Braves at Illinois field on Tuesday, March 21. The bullpen, according to head coach Dan Hartleb, looked good, which will be a key factor in this upcoming series.

“We are finding guys who do a good job of pounding the strike zone, giving us a chance,” Hartleb said. “I thought they did a really good job.”

This series presents a huge challenge for the Illini, and Hartleb spoke highly of the opposing Cornhuskers.

“We’ve got one of the toughest teams in the conference first weekend,” Hartleb said. “Nebraska is really good, they’ve got two starters who could be No. 1s on most teams in the Big Ten, and they’ve got one of the best offenses in the Big Ten.”

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Nebraska’s offense has been as elite as a team could hope for so far, boasting a league-best slugging percentage of .554 to Illinois’ .480. Nebraska also has the second-highest on-base percentage in the conference, with a .427. The Illini rank 10th in the conference with a .385 on-base percentage.

Both teams struggle on the mound as both teams have a combined earned run average over five runs, which is a focus point for the Illini and Hartleb.

“We need to continue to work on shutdown innings, where we score and then put up a zero on the mound.” Hartleb said.

This series also provides a historic opportunity for Hartleb, who stands in second place on the Illinois all-time wins list with 517 wins. If the Illini can take at least two of the three games, Hartleb will stand alone at the mountaintop.

Back in January, Hartleb spoke about his passion for the baseball program here at Illinois and how excited he was to continue his career after receiving an extension.

“We’ve enjoyed our time here,” Hartleb said. “We’ve invested a lot of time and effort here, and I’m excited to continue to move forward with trying to build this program to the highest level.”

First pitch will be at 6:05 p.m. on Friday, March 24, with ace Riley Gowens taking the mound for his sixth start of the season. Game two will be at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday, and the series finale will be at 1:05 p.m. on Sunday. All times listed are in CDT.



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