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No. 25 Illinois continues homestand versus Grand Canyon

The Illini welcome the Antelopes for three games this weekend.

Doran Turchin (20) slides into home plate during Illinois’ 10-4 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Sunday. Turchin hit his eighth home run of the season Tuesday.
Jonathan Bonaguro

Illinois finally jumped back into the national rankings, coming at No. 25, but the Illini may fall right back out of them come next week.

The Illini dropped a non-conference midweek game versus Valparaiso on Tuesday night, 11-7, which snapped Illinois’ five-game winning streak. The Crusaders entered the matchup with an 11-19 record, far worse than the 19-16 Grand Canyon team coming to Illinois Field this weekend.

“We had no intensity and played poorly from the start,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb of the Valparaiso game. “It was just one thing after another where the guys didn’t have their head in the game.”

Illinois allowed four runs in the first inning, only to score in the bottom half of the opening frame. Starting pitcher Ryan Schmitt allowed four earned runs before recording an out, and the Illini ran through five pitchers on the night.

“We didn’t throw quality pitches to get us back even or give us an advantage count,” Hartleb said. “They pitched terrible. That’s what I learned.”

Hartleb gets to head back to his regular starters — Andy Fisher, Quinn Snarskis and Ty Weber — for the weekend series. Weber threw a complete game in a win versus Rutgers on Sunday.

Grand Canyon plays in the Western Athletic Conference and has a 10-2 record in league play.

Doran “Torch”-in Opposing Pitchers

Illinois left fielder Doran Turchin matched his 2017 total of eight home runs during Tuesday’s game against Valparaiso.

Turchin’s first-inning blast cut the deficit to 4-3.

The junior credits his success in 2018 to playing summer ball during the offseason.

“(Playing in the summer) helped me get a few more (at bats) and chances in the box to put some quality swings,” Turchin said. “The big thing for me is just laying off stuff up in the zone. I’ve missed some here and there, but for the most part, when I’ve wanted a pitch and I’ve got it, I’ve hit it and hit it hard.”

Illinois slugging first baseman Bren Spillane (ankle sprain) was pulled in the second inning last Friday and has not returned to action since.

Over his last four games, Turchin has five hits and scored seven runs, pulling the offense’s load.

“We know that when one man goes down, someone has got to step up,” Turchin said. “We know what we’re capable of, and we know it’s a big loss. We can pick each other up. If we keep putting quality at bats together, we’ll be good.”

Let’s Go Dancing?

With about one month left in the season, several college baseball “bracketologists” are including the Illini in their projected fields of 64, like Baseball America.

Illinois has not made the NCAA Tournament since the 2015 season when the Illini hosted the Champaign Regional. Baseball America projects Illinois to currently be placed in the Lexington, Kentucky (13) Regional.

“It’s a long season, and we’re halfway through,” Turchin said. “We’re getting close to the end, and we’ll have to take it game by game and pitch by pitch.”

Honor and Serve

Illinois will don special uniforms Saturday afternoon. The jerseys will benefit the Habitat of Humanity of Champaign County.

It is the seventh annual Honors and Serve Day game.