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Ben Troike is quietly putting together a brilliant season

Bren Spillane isn’t the only Illini with impressive numbers in 2018.

Jonathan Bonaguro

Ben Troike ended the 2017 season on a five-game hitting streak.

For the most part, Troike’s freshman campaign was not spectacular, not was it awful. Illinois’ shortstop started 50 out of 51 games at short for the Illini in 2017 (impressive!), but he only batted (.234, 45-for-192, eh). Troike also led Big Ten freshmen shortstops in fielding percentage (.964) and helped the Illini rank second in the nation in double plays per game (1.18).

For all of the good Troike was providing an underwhelming Illinois team, his bat was still an issue, as it is for most freshmen.

But that hitting streak started something — an on-base streak — that has not stopped since. Troike has reached based every game since May 12, 2017, which is 44 consecutive games, the longest streak in the Big Ten and the fifth-longest streak in the nation.

You won't hear Troike talk too much about the streak, though.

“I’m just trying to work counts,” Troike said. “Whether I walk three times or get a hit or still get on base, my main thing at the top of the lineup is to just get on base however I can.”

A native of Tinley Park, Illinois, Troike played in the Northwoods League last summer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Illinois junior right fielder Jack Yalowitz, who was named to the Perfect Game Preseason All-Big Ten team in 2018, worked with Troike when the two played on the same Northwoods team.

Troike credits Yalowitz’s help to his growth this season.

“(Yalowitz) has been a big part of it,” Troike said. “We worked a lot over the summer. After at bats we would talk about stuff in the dugout, and we lived together, too, so he helped me a lot, like approach-wise. I owe a lot to what he did over the summer.”

Much of the focus this season has been on first baseman Bren Spillane, who was named Midseason National Player of the Year by several major college baseball news outlets.

Troike’s been hitting in the two-hole for much of 2018, right in front of Spillane, baseball’s most feared hitter.

“With the year he is having, pitchers don’t want to walk me and put me on base for him, so I get a lot of good pitches to hit,” Troike said.”

While Illinois has been struggling over the past two weeks, Troike has improved his batting average to .327, nearly .100 higher than a season ago.

His improvement, especially his work in the weight room, has not gone unnoticed with head coach Dan Hartleb.

“He’s a year more mature, and I say that as baseball mature,” Hartleb said. “There are things you learn every year, and he’s gotten stronger. He’s just a year more confident as well, and he’s done a tremendous job. Each and every year you’ll see him grow in several different areas.”

So if you ask Troike about his streak, you are likely to get a team-oriented answer.

“How long is the longest on-base streak in the nation,” I asked him.

“No clue, doesn’t matter to me,” Troike answers.