Illinois baseball set for road trip to Minneapolis

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Illinois baseball set for road trip to Minneapolis

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits the ball during the game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 24. Spillane has helped carry the Illini through a five-game winning streak.

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits the ball during the game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 24. Spillane has helped carry the Illini through a five-game winning streak.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits the ball during the game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 24. Spillane has helped carry the Illini through a five-game winning streak.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits the ball during the game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 24. Spillane has helped carry the Illini through a five-game winning streak.

By Gavin Good, Assistant sports editor

The Illinois baseball team (3-3) led in every game last weekend, but it left Conway, South Carolina, with a 2-2 for the trip.

Without knowing much about Illinois’ opponents — perennial power Coastal Carolina, well-regarded West Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth — blowing two leads is a big negative.

But the Illini were happy with how they responded, especially after losing their first two games, going 6-4 against Coastal Carolina and 10-8 against West Virginia.

“There were some things we did well, there were some things we really need to clean up as we move forward,” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “I think the thing that I’m most pleased with is the fact, you lose your first two, and we didn’t give in. Guys didn’t start pouting, we came out to win games and found a way to get ourselves back to .500 on the weekend, so that was a huge positive for us.”

One part of the game Illinois fared well in was hitting, and that is something the team will look to continue as it heads off to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to take on No. 11 UCLA, Arizona and Washington at the home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Playing in a major league stadium will be different for Illinois. Namely, the field is a bit larger.

“From a hitting standpoint, we’re going to play in some parks now coming up that are going to be much larger and eight home run weekends probably aren’t going to happen,” Hartleb said. “We’ve got to be aware of that and make more adjustments, hit more line drives and do a great job of situational hitting.”

Hartleb, though pleased with his team’s early season hitting, was not satisfied with the starting pitching.

Illinois has walked 30 batters in six games so far this season, while opposing teams have walked 18 by comparison. If Illinois is going to hang with UCLA and expects to get some positive results on the weekend, not giving away free bases will be crucial, according to Hartleb.

“We’re very capable, we have good arms, we have good stuff, but we’re behind in the count on a regular basis and we are walking too many guys,” Hartleb said. “If you look at the runs that were scored over the weekend, especially in the losses, the walks caught up to us.”

Another area where the team is aiming to improve is in its pitch selection when at the plate. Junior outfielder Doran Turchin noted that the Illini did a significantly better job with choosing which pitches to swing at last week than in their first weekend trip to St. Louis.

Being too aggressive, especially when ahead in the count, can lead to wasted opportunities offensively.

“First week out, one of those things where you’ve kind of got the jitters because you’re excited to be out there,” Turchin said. “We were being a little overaggressive and swinging at some pitches that weren’t in the zone, that we probably shouldn’t swing at. We improved a little bit this past weekend, and we want to improve upon it again this upcoming weekend.”

Hartleb wants the Illini to be aggressive, but it’s a matter of timing.

It can’t be every pitch because not every pitch is hittable, and it is even less likely for every pitch to be in a batter’s sweet spot where it can be blasted out of the park or deep into the outfield.

“So when we swing, I want it to be on pitches that we can hit hard and drive,” Hartleb said. “Sometimes we’re just basically swinging because it’s an advantage count, we just get too excited almost and just swing instead of going up and getting a good pitch. If you don’t get that pitch, let go and move on to the next one.”

The Illini head out to Minneapolis on Thursday. They will open the weekend in an early showdown with No. 11 UCLA at 11 a.m.

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