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Youth of Illinois baseball team continues to shine

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Youth of Illinois baseball team continues to shine

Nick Blackburn pitches the ball at the Illini Field on April 17, 2016. Illinois played against Saint Louis and won 6-2.

Nick Blackburn pitches the ball at the Illini Field on April 17, 2016. Illinois played against Saint Louis and won 6-2.

The Daily Illini File Photo

Nick Blackburn pitches the ball at the Illini Field on April 17, 2016. Illinois played against Saint Louis and won 6-2.

The Daily Illini File Photo

The Daily Illini File Photo

Nick Blackburn pitches the ball at the Illini Field on April 17, 2016. Illinois played against Saint Louis and won 6-2.

By Thomas Polcyn, Assistant sports editor

Heading into the season, the Illinois baseball team knew that this would be a unique year.

After last season’s conclusion, the team lost upperclassmen such as Cody Sedlock, Jason Goldstein, Nick Blackburn and more.

But so far this season, despite not posting its best record, the young Illini talent has shown why the team remains confident in themselves.

Both sophomore David Craan and freshman Ben Troike have shown this talent.

In this past weekend’s tournament, both Craan and Troike — along with senior first baseman Pat McInerney — were named to the Kleberg Bank College Classic All-Tournament Team.

Craan went 6-for-10 on the weekend with a double, two RBIs and four runs. Troike had eight hits, five runs and hit .571 on the weekend.

Troike said he was honored to be named to the all-tournament team.

“It was nice to come out and swing the bat well this week, but we’re still getting there as a team,” Troike said. “We’re going to do a lot better than we’ve shown these first two weekends.

Aside from the pair’s great weekend as the plate, they also played strong defense.

Troike — along with freshman shortstop Michael Massey — turned four double plays and went errorless on the weekend. Craan caught two runners stealing and also picked off a runner on a backdoor throw.

Other notable Illini underclassmen from the past weekend included Massey — who hit his first career home run, Joey Gerber — who threw two scoreless innings against Missouri, and Cole Bellair — who earned his first win of the season, drove in three RBIs and scored six runs on the weekend.

Craan feels no pressure following former Illini catcher Jason Goldstein

During his time at Illinois, Jason Goldstein was always known for his high baseball IQ and his strong connection with his pitchers.

Now, Goldstein is gone, and that has brought David Craan the opportunity to become Illinois’ everyday signal-caller behind the plate.

Craan got some experience last season — playing in 20 games and earning three starts — but for a pitching staff with lots of experience it is definitely a new look.

Despite the challenge, Craan feels that he’s been up to the job.

“I think it’s gone pretty good,” Craan said. “It’s just being able to relate to them, communicate with them and go out to talk to them on the mound. We feel good.”

He also added that even though he knows how good Goldstein was, he feels no added pressure playing in his footsteps.

“I just wanted to come in and be somebody to be consistent,” Craan said. “Obviously, Goldstein, drafted, pretty much caught every game, was a really great guy behind the plate. But it’s never really been that I feel I have to be Goldstein. It’s just doing my job and being consistent.”

Craan and the Illini will be back in action this weekend, heading to Boca Raton, Florida, for a three game series with Florida Atlantic University (4-1-1).

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@TPolc

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