Quick, name a starting pitcher for the Illinois baseball team. I'll give you a minute. Can't think of anybody? If you're a casual Illini fan who hasn't been reading TCR lately or doesn't know how to use Google you probably wouldn't be able to. But maybe it's time we all started paying a little closer attention to this ball club, because they're doing some special things right now.
Under skipper Dan Hartleb, the sixth-ranked Fighting Illini are off to their best start in school history at 37-6-1 and are currently in first place in the Big Ten standings. They've won twelve straight conference games for the first time since 1911 and have put together a remarkable 18-game winning streak overall. It's the longest active streak in college baseball. During this run, Illinois has outscored its opponents 134-52 and is hitting .294 as a team. The Illini also boast a combined 2.31 ERA from their starters and their relievers from the pen, good for best in the Big Ten.
Specifically a pair of juniors, starter Kevin Duchene and closer Tyler Jay, have been standouts for Hartleb's squad. Duchene has a 0.74 ERA and for a starting pitcher that's just ridiculous. That means he's allowing less than one earned run per nine innings. And then there's Jay, who has compiled a 0.78 ERA (third-best in the nation) and a 0.63 WHIP (best in the nation).
On the offensive side of the ball, senior Casey Fletcher is hitting a team-high .350 average and has also driven in 28 runs at the plate this season. He was just named Big Ten player of the week after going eight-for-sixteen in just four games. The Illini lead the conference with 37 total home runs hit and senior power-threat David Kerian has hit 10 of them by himself. There are very few offensive categories that Illinois doesn't lead the conference in. If the Big Ten Tournament started tomorrow, the Illini would be the #1 seed.
But before the orange and blue turn an eye towards the postseason, they must close out the conference slate with six straight home games, three against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and three against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They're an amazing 17-2 overall this year at home.
So if you live in the Champaign area and have some free time next weekend, you should consider heading over to Illinois Field. If you aren't nearby you can watch their final two matchups on the Big Ten Network Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. But whether you're in the stands or just on your couch, I challenge you to sit down and witness an Illinois baseball game; you won't be disappointed.