CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Illini finished their 2018 season on a disappointing note when they were left out of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Illinois finished the season with at 33-20 record and a 15-9 conference record and was left on the tournament bubble, despite wins against UCLA, Coastal Carolina, and Indiana.
“We’re disappointed. You play all year to get in the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to play for the National Championship,” said Illinois Head Coach Dan Hartleb last May. “There’s two sides to it. You can look at teams that got in, teams that didn’t get in.”
The Illini were likely left out due to a slump they suffered in late April. Illinois lost a series against Grand Canyon University sandwiched between back-to-back Tuesday game losses against Valparaiso and Bradley. The Illini will play both Bradley and Grand Canyon again this year.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, there were plenty of positives to the 2018 season.
The Illini improved their record drastically. They ended the 2018 season above .500 with 10 more wins in 2018, and won six more conference games than in 2017. They advanced to the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament by beating Indiana twice.
Outfielder Bren Spillane was named Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year for batting an average of .389 and hitting 23 home runs. Spillane was drafted in the third round to the Cincinnati Reds and currently plays for the Billings Mustangs.
Junior second baseman Michael Massey batted .326 and won the ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award. Massey was named to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Preseason All-America Third Team for 2019. Massey will try and fill in the whole left by Spillane in the lineup.
St. Joseph’s transfer Quinn Snarskis started off his Illini career on the right note with a 6-1 with a 2.84 ERA. Snarskis started the first game in Aruba and will assume an ace role in 2019.
Ben Troike put together a quiet but impressive season. Troike made a difference leading off by batting an average of .299 and stealing 10 bags, but his most impressive stat was his 57-game on-base streak. Troike could change his roles this offseason and move back to the two or three spot in the order with Spillane leaving the team.
The Illini will be without their star outfielder, but will return seven of their eight fielders from 2018. They will also return 97 percent of their pitching wins in 2019.
“I hope they’re hungry” Hartleb said at the Illinois’ first spring practice. “We got left out of the NCAA tournament last year which means we didn’t do what we needed to do to put ourselves in position to be one of those final teams, so I hope they have a chip on their shoulders and we go out with a sense of urgency.”
The Illini will start their 2019 campaign when they travel to Winston-Salem N.C. to play Georgetown on Feb. 15.
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