The Daily Illini

Work left for Illinois baseball in historic season

By Michal Dwojak, Staff writer

No matter how high the standards were, few could’ve imagined the historic season the Illini would have. The 2015 team began the season with its best start in program history, set record overall and Big Ten winning streaks and hold the best wining percentage in the NCAA.

It’s been a special team to be a part of, and players know there’s a job to do.

“This team is so much fun to be a part of, everybody’s so loose and able to be themselves,” pitcher Kevin Duchene said. “We don’t feel the pressure of a win streak or postseason aspirations, we’re taking it one game at a time.”

The Illini escaped the first three weekends with a 9-2-1 record — it was the first time the team tied in 10 years. The true test for Illinois came against then-No. 10 Oklahoma State. The team showed its true colors in the rubber match in Stillwater, Oklahoma, after taking the first game and dropping the second. David Kerian hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th inning and the Illini won the series.ss

Illinois only lost three of its next 11 games before starting a historic run. With their 13-9 win over Michigan State to win the series, the Illini started a 24-game winning streak, which is tied for the longest this season with Texas.ss

Both the Illini offense and pitching staff have been consistent throughout the season. When Illinois fails to get anything going at the plate and only scores a few runs, the pitchers pick up the load and vice versa. The staff leads the Big Ten with a 2.27 ERA and are led by junior lefties Tyler Jay and Duchene. Jay and Duchene rank second and third in the nation with 0.73 and 0.78 ERAs, respectively.ss

The team’s batting average of .293 is tied with Michigan State for second in the conference. Kerian leads the Illini with a .366 average but five players have at least a .300 batting average.ss

“Everyone’s been doing their job and taking quality at-bats,” Kerian said. “Nobody tried to do too much and got the jobs done to get the wins.”

The records and national accolades are fun but they aren’t the goal the Illini set at the beginning of the year. Coming off a sweep of Rutgers, Illinois will close out the season against Nebraska at Illinois Field. Illinois is projected to host a NCAA Super Regional but there are still things left undone.

The Illini will travel to Minneapolis and try to capture its fourth Big Ten Championship before it sets to play in the NCAA tournament and tries to leave Omaha, Nebraska, with its first College World Series Championship.

“Our guys are already focused with the start of practice,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “This is just a group that comes out to take care of business and has a lot of lofty goals.”

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