The plan for Illinois Baseball was to fly out of Chicago’s Midway Airport down to Beaumont, Texas, on Thursday afternoon and open the season at Lamar University.
The reality was that Midway cancelled and grounded hundreds of flights Thursday due to fog, stopping the Illini from traveling down south and forcing the team to find new opponents on one day of notice.
Luckily Illinois found some team to play — the Illini will be at St. Louis University playing South Dakota State on Saturday and a doubleheader against the Jackrabbits and Austin Peay on Sunday — but the upcoming season may be foggy and murky like the airport.
Illinois is coming off a disappointing 2017 campaign that featured no postseason play and a 10th-place finish in the 13-team Big Ten. Now three years removed from the magical 2015 season, Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said more experience in 2018 should benefit his team.
“Last year we played a very large number of players who had never played before,” Hartleb said last week on The Jeremy Werner Show. “We did that in order to have long-term success.”
With the graduation of Pat McInerney, expect Jack Yalowitz, a 2017 All-Big Ten first team selection, to have a strong junior campaign and anchor a talented outfield with Doran Turchin and Houston transfer Zac Taylor. Sophomores Ben Troike and Michael Massey take care of the middle of the infield, ranking second in the nation in double plays per game in 2017 as freshmen.
Keeping with the sophomore theme, second-year pitchers Ty Weber and Cyrillo Watson will get the nod on the mound in the first and third game this weekend, respectively. Southpaw Andy Fisher will start the second game of the weekend Sunday against South Dakota State.
After a 6-16 start to the season last year, Illinois will be looking for a better opening weekend in hopes of making the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments this season.