Reviewing a memorable yet inconsistent 2022-23 season for Illinois baseball


Jacob Slabosz

Head baseball coach Dan Hartleb leaves the dugout to walk to the bullpen in the middle of the fourth inning during the game against Michigan on Saturday, Apr. 1. Hartleb broke the program record for wins (519) the following day.

By Adam Rosen, Summer Editor

Illinois finished up its 144th season of action with a 25-27 record and a 12-12 record against Big Ten opponents. Head coach Dan Hartleb led the Illini in his 18th season as the man in charge and his 33rd overall on the coaching staff.

Hartleb received a four-year extension on his contract in November 2022 before he entered the season just 12 wins shy of the program record for the most wins in program history (518). The Illini were determined to get farther than the prior season, where they lost to the Michigan Wolverines and the Indiana Hoosiers in back-to-back Big Ten tournament games.

The Illini added a plethora of new players — 14, eight via transfer — heading into the season, but also retained 22 players from 2022. Among the newcomers, junior first baseman Drake Westcott from Louisville and senior catcher Jacob Schroeder from John A. Logan College had the best seasons at the plate. Westcott and Schroeder led the team in on-base plus slugging and home runs, with Westcott slugging 18 and Schroeder adding 14.

The Illini were experienced and led by a pair of Illini lifers in graduates Cam McDonald and Branden Comia. The Illini offense posed a true threat to pitching staffs. They began their season on a long road trip to the East Coast, the South and back to the East Coast before the home opener.

The season started with good performances, including a series win over then No. 18 Southern Mississippi, as Illinois jumped out to a 7-5 record before its 2023 debut at Illinois Field. From then on, the season was a roller coaster, but it certainly provided moments to remember for fans, players and coaches alike.

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One of the first memorable moments of the season came on April 2, when the Illini trounced the Wolverines 11-1. The final score, however, was not the story of the game. The Illini win gave Dan Hartleb his 519th win as the head coach of the program, breaking the record previously held by Lee Eilbracht. Following the final pitch, the crowd applauded and cheered for the legendary head coach. Hartleb was honored after the game with balloons, a poster, a tribute on the right-field scoreboard and photos with his family at home plate.

Twelve days later, the Illini returned home for what would be their biggest matchup of the conference season to date. The Hoosiers knocked the Illini out in 2022 but came back with a vengeance in the series opener. This began a seven-game homestand for the Illini, providing two of the season’s most significant moments.

Against the Hoosiers in game one, the Illini took a 4-1 lead and were clearly in the driver’s seat for the victory. However, the Hoosiers roared their way back with four unanswered runs. But, in the eighth inning, senior catcher Jacob Schroeder took things into his hands and sent a baseball into orbit, a long two-run shot to give Illinois a 6-5 lead, which would end up the final score. Once the ball was hit, the fans immediately erupted into an uproar of celebration.

In the final game of that homestand, the Illini hosted the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who lost the first two games at Illinois Field. But, the Gophers took a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning of game three, which put the Illini sweep attempt in danger. However, an odd situation in center-field gave the Illini momentum. Westcott hit a long fly ball to center, appearing to be caught by the outfielder; after review, it was determined the ball slipped the glove and went over the fence, keeping the game alive. Sophomore left-fielder Ryan Moerman followed up by sprinting for an infield single Schroeder launched a rocket to center, capping off a dramatic 6-5 win and sweep over the Golden Gophers.

A few weeks later, the Illini were in dire need of Big Ten wins, and with one of the premier teams in the conference in town, it was now or never. The Michigan State Spartans came to Illinois Field and were completely thumped by Illinois, who pulled off a sweep. Illinois gutted out an impressive win in game one like the Indiana series. Moerman made a ridiculous catch in foul territory and then demolished a flyball to left-field, walking off a 10-9 Illinois win with a home run that flew so far, the distance was unregistered.

However, the season ended in a similar fashion to 2022, with a loss to Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. The pitching had been struggling all season, and at times, the offense went dormant. The Illini pitching did their best against the Hoosiers, but the offense struggled and fell short in a 4-3 loss in game one. The next day, the Illini lost 6-3 to Michigan, who thoroughly dominated most of the game.

Illinois will have to look to 2024 after being eliminated from postseason play. However, the roster will undoubtedly undergo many changes, with many players graduating or running out of eligibility. One thing is for sure, though, despite the team’s struggles, the Illini gave fans a season to remember with the walk-offs, big hits and historic achievements by players and coaches.



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