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Illinois Baseball looks to make mark in Big Ten Tourney

The Illini have an uphill battle if they want to take the Big Ten Tournament

Jonathan Bonaguro

Postseason baseball is finally here.

And it’s time to see if the Illinois Baseball team’s impressive regular season will carry over into the Big Ten Tournament when it faces the Indiana Hoosiers on Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Illini finished the regular season with a 31-18 overall record and a 15-9 mark in conference play. Illinois went through a slump in the middle of the season, dropping three straight series at one point, but did pick it up at the end, going on the road and taking a weekend series against the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan was 17-1 at home before the Illini came into town and won two out of the three games.

The Illini then defeated the Nebraska Huskers the following weekend to win four out of their last six games to end the regular season.

In these last two series, the Illinois offense went back to being the powerhouse it was at the beginning of the season. The Illini put up 20 runs in their two wins against the Wolverines on the road and added another 18 runs in their home series wins against the Huskers.

First baseman Bren Spillane has been the catalyst of the Illinois offense by having one of the best offensive seasons in Illinois history. Spillane is batting .407 with 22 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .944 slugging percentage.

The accolades Spillane acquired this season continue to keep coming with him being a USA Golden Spikes Award semifinalist, the Big Ten regular season triple crown winner, the NCAA leader in slugging percentage. His 22 home runs also rank second in Illini history.

Spillane also was just awarded the 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year after leading the Big Ten in seven batting categories.

Spillane and the Illinois bats, however, couldn’t get going when it traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, for a road series against Indiana. The Illini only put up six runs in the three games they faced against the Hoosiers and only put up three runs in the losses.

Hot Illinois bats heading into Wednesday’s matchup against Indiana may play a significant factor into whether Illinois can make a dent against the Indiana pitchers.

The Illini pitching has also solidified itself at the end of the season. Dan Hartleb’s main starters have been giving more quality starts while the bullpen has been more consistent in its outings, led by closer Joey Gerber.

Gerber (with a team-leading 2.36 ERA) has been dominant in the ninth inning and has consistently gotten Major League Baseball scouts to camp out behind home plate with their radar guns. Gerber will be looking to break the Illinois all-time saves record in the Big Ten Tournament. He is currently tied for the program single-season record with 14.

The combination of hot bats and consistent pitching will be essential if the Illini are to overcome the Hoosiers on Wednesday, but the battle to the top will only get more difficult from there. If Illinois defeats Indiana, it will face the winner of No. 1 seeded Minnesota and No. 8 seeded Michigan State in the next round on Thursday, May 24.

The tournament is double elimination. As it looks now, Illinois seems to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament starting next week.