Illinois baseball: Year in Review
May 8, 2016
Editor’s note: The team was still playing at the time of print.
Both coaches and players on the Illinois baseball team have stressed one word in particular when addressing their current season: inconsistency.
“There’s days I think we take a step forward, and then there’s some days we’re mediocre,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “That’s more mental than physical. We’ve got some good pieces…and we have a number of guys that need to grow from a mentality standpoint.”
Sitting at 22-19 (7-8 Big Ten), the Illini have struggled to find an identity. With 11 freshmen on the roster, the Illini came into the year carrying a sense of youth and inexperience — a stark contrast from last season’s veteran-driven core that produced school records of 50 wins and a 27-game win streak.
Illinois began the season 11-14 but have been on a tear since the start of April. From the end of March, Illinois holds an 11-5 record headlined by a season-high six-game win streak from April 12-22.
“The younger guys have had a lot of at-bats under their belts, and they’re starting to put good swings on the ball offensively,” second baseman Michael Hurwitz said. “It’s been an up-and-down year where pitching and defense carried us for a while, and then offense carried us for a while. If we can put it all together, we’ll win a lot of baseball games.”
Not every aspect of Illinois has been up and down.
In the midst of the Illini’s relatively average season, there’s been career performances from a number of Illini veterans.
At the plate, Hurwitz, a redshirt senior, put together a career and team-high 15-game hitting streak spanning from April 3-22. Having to miss last year’s historical season with a torn hip labrum, Hurwitz bounced back this season to become the everyday starter at second base and is second on the team in batting average, runs and hits.
Catcher Jason Goldstein, who returned for his senior season after being selected in the 2015 MLB draft, has only helped his pro stock in his final Illini campaign. Goldstein has caught for an Illini pitching staff that holds a 3.76 team ERA and has gunned down 11 runners attempting to steal a base. Offensively, Goldstein leads the team with a .341 batting average, 46 hits and 26 RBIs.
On the mound, junior Cody Sedlock and redshirt senior Charlie Naso have had strong performances all season long.
As the Illini’s ace, Sedlock is 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA and 90 strikeouts. In a 15-inning 1-0 win over Ohio State, Sedlock put forth a Herculean effort on the mound, tossing 10.2 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and recording a career-high 14 strikeouts. The performance earned him an NCAA National Pitcher of the Week honor.
“There was no way I was coming out,” Sedlock said. “I’m built to go like that.”
From the bullpen, Naso has been the Illini’s go-to relief pitcher all year. Sporting a 2-0 record, he leads the team with a 2.21 ERA and just five earned runs in 20.1 innings pitched.
Illinois is currently tied for ninth in the Big Ten standings, hoping to move up in the final weeks of the season to be one of the eight teams selected to take part in the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 25. According to the players, the Illini have the talent to make it; it’s just a matter of putting it all together at the right time.
“We need to win every series,” Goldstein said. “We’ve haven’t faced a team this year that we thought we couldn’t beat. Everyone has gotten at-bats and the pitchers have all seen innings. Everyone has tasted success this season, it’s just a matter of staying confident…”