Illinois looks to extend its winning streak to six games Tuesday night when Valparaiso comes to Champaign. The non-conference matchup is the fifth game in a nine-game homestand for the Illini.
Baseball America included Illinois (23-8, 9-3 Big Ten) in its top-25 rankings again Monday after the Illini dropped out of the polls following a series loss to Iowa in early April.
Illinois catcher Jeff Korte still does not completely understand why the Illini are not being respected in the polls.
“I was looking at the polls this morning,” Korte said. “Some of the teams ahead of us we have played better than, but they gave them the nod just because they’re the bigger powerhouses. We have the same record as Coastal, and they’re ranked 16th. We swept the Pac-12, and UCLA is at 13. It’s just like, ‘Oh, ok, I see how it is.’”
Illinois will send RHP Ryan Schmitt (1-1, 5.48 ERA) to the hill. He pitched three innings in the series opener on Friday night versus Rutgers, allowing one run on one hit and striking out two Knights.
Valparaiso (11-19, 2-4 Missouri Valley) split a weekend series with Michigan State. The pitching staff has a team ERA of 6.31, which bodes well for an Illini team that scored 25 runs over three games against Rutgers.
Illinois is 16-3 all time against Valpo, and the teams have met only once since 1981.
First pitch is at 6 p.m. at Illinois Field.
Hartleb wins No. 400
Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb won his 400th career game at Illinois on Sunday when the Illini beat Rutgers 10-4.
“Hitting the milestone means two things: longevity and good players,” Hartleb said. “I’ve been fortunate to be around a program that is supported well and have assistant coaches, academic, strength — I’m just the guy that gets the W or L next to my name. They’re the reasons for the success we’ve had. It’s been an honor to be in the leadership position for those people.”
While 2015 was a special year for Illinois with 50 wins, Hartleb is most excited about having built a nationally recognized program over his 13 years and counting in Champaign.
“We had a lot of people who sacrificed a lot to build the program,” Hartleb said. “In 2015, to be able to set some records, that was a fun year. But now it’s nice to be competing at the national level on a yearly basis, and we’ve made progress there.”
Hartleb’s record currently stands at 400-289-1.
He doesn’t remember many specific games out of 690, but he knows what the one tie was.
“It was at Coastal Carolina in 2015,” Hartleb said. “We were behind and came back, but we had a travel curfew.
“I don’t remember a lot of specific games, but I do remember that one.”
Ty Weber continues to be consistent
Illinois sophomore RHP Ty Weber went the distance in Sunday’s series finale versus Rutgers, allowing four earned runs in the process. Three of those four came on a home run to right field on a windy day at Illinois Field.
“He was very efficient and kept his pitch total down,” Hartleb said of Weber. “He had the one inning with some struggles, but he had good command and threw pitches down in the zone. He got ahead of the count on a fairly tough day to pitch with the wind throwing out. He handled it very, very well, and he’s just a composed and competitive pitcher.”
Weber finished the 2017 campaign with a 2-7 record and 5.51 ERA in 14 starts. He has improved in 2018, going 4-1 and pitching to the tune of a 3.00 ERA through nine starts.
“(Sunday) was a special game for me,” Weber said. “It was weird to go the distance with four earned runs. I had an unbelievable defense behind me, and I knew Rutgers would attack early in the count. I had the trust in (catcher) Jeff (Korte), and it worked out.”