After a pretty disappointing month, Illinois found its grove again in Ann Arbor this weekend against Michigan. The Illini (29-17, 13-8 Big Ten) took two of three games from the Wolverines, shocking the pundits and throwing themselves back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
With one weekend series (Thursday-Saturday) remaining before the Big Ten Tournament — where the Illini already clinched a spot —and presumably the NCAA Tournament, here are three things to keep your eye on with Dan Hartleb’s club.
Bren Spillane is chasing RECORDS.
Have you heard of Bren Spillane?
TWENTY!@bren_spillane's second oppo bomb of the day is his 20th homer of the season. He is the second #Illini ever to get to 20 homers in a season (Josh Klimek, 26, 1996). pic.twitter.com/OnJFZ8TV0O— Illini Baseball (@IlliniBaseball) May 11, 2018
Bren Spillane is currently slugging .950. The last NCAA player to finish a year with a slugging percentage over .950 was Rickie Weeks (Southern U.) .995 in 2002.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) May 7, 2018
That stat is a week old. He’s actually up to .954 after this weekend, which featured two home runs on Friday (his fifth multi-home run game of the season).
Spillane is definitely gone after this season, and he projects (in my mind) as a draft pick in the first 10 rounds, but he should probably be going even earlier. Except for missing a few games with an ankle injury in April, Spillane has not really cooled off all season, and this has been some kind of a breakout campaign.
If the Illini don’t make it out of their regional in the NCAA Tournament (if they make the tourney), Spillane would have anywhere between about seven to 10 games left in the season, if not more.
If he continues heating up, Spillane has the all-time home run record for Illinois (26 by Josh Klimek in 1996) in sights, as well as the highest slugging percentage by ANY player in the country in 16 years.
The kid’s good. Don’t miss him this weekend in what is likely to be his final series in Champaign.
Troike is (STILL) streaking.
Shortstop Ben Troike reached base in the final five games of the 2017 season.
Then Troike reached base the first 46 games this season, every game up to and including Sunday’s loss at Michigan.
In short, Troike currently has a 51-game on-base streak, the longest streak in the Big Ten and one of the longest in the country.
After batting only .234 as a freshman, Troike has improved his average to .310 through 46 games and has sported a .953 fielding percentage. Overall, he’s improved as a player this season, which I highlighted a few weeks back.
What he has done this season is quite remarkable and a mark of consistency, and I’m excited to see if he can keep it up for the home stretch.
Can the weekend rotation keep it up?
Quinn Snarskis, Andy Fisher and Ty Weber have become one of the Big Ten’s most consistent rotations over recent series. The Illini’s weekend starters all sport winning records — 6-1, 5-2, 4-3 respectively — and have all pitched at least 67 innings and ERAs below 4.20.
And a look at these three guys’ outings against Michigan sum it all up.
Snarskis on Friday: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K (ERA down to 3.06)
Fisher on Saturday (on his GRADUATION DAY!): 7 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K (ERA down to 4.18)
Weber on Sunday: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R (1 ER), 0 BB, 3 K (ERA down to 3.42)
If these three guys can pitch like this again this weekend as well as in the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois should be able to get the ball to its bullpen, especially closer Joey Gerber.
Illinois’ series with Nebraska begins Thursday with Senior Day commencing the regular season on Saturday.