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Illinois Baseball starts season off with three-game sweep

The Illini got an impressive win over the weekend against No. 20 Wake Forest.

FightingIllini.com

Illinois Baseball won three straight over the weekend in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Including a win against No. 20 Wake Forest.

The Illini started their season on Friday with an 11-3 win against the Georgetown Hoyas, thanks to an offensive explosion. They racked up a total of 14 hits against the Hoyas including home runs from seniors Zac Taylor and David Craan.

“There were a lot of really good things,” Illinois Head Coach Dan Hartleb told FightingIllini.com after the game on Friday. “The thing I thought we did well was compete. Just a solid outing for us on both sides.”

Hartleb got plenty of help from his pitching staff as well. Junior Ty Weber pitched well in relief striking out four over the course 3.2 scoreless innings. Freshman Aidan Maldonado impressed fans with a 1-2-3 ninth inning punching out two on only eight pitches.

The Illini won their biggest challenge of the weekend on Saturday when they toppled No. 20 Wake Forest, 5-2. Late-game heroics came from an unlikely source — freshman Cam McDonald. McDonald had two go-ahead RBI hits, including the game winner. Senior Andy Fisher gave the Illini a good start, even taking a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, but eventually surrendered two runs in 5.2 innings.

”We came out to win,” Hartleb told FightingIllini.com on Saturday. “Some teams may get intimidated by a certain situation, but our guys did an unbelievable job competing. We had great energy, a bunch of clutch hits, and the young guys all contributed in a big, big way.”

The Illini closed out their weekend with a 4-0 win against the Sacred Heart Pioneers on Sunday afternoon.

”I thought our guys did a great job,” Hartleb told FightingIllini.com. “First of all, we had unbelievable pitching. Our starter Cyrillo Watson was outstanding.”

Watson had a great day for Illinois. He hurled six innings of shut-out baseball and struck out eight in the process. Watson got help some from Taylor who had two doubles and added a run on the day.

The Bullpen

The Illini might really have some depth in the pen this year. Hartleb made great offseason additions at the closer slot with freshman Aidan Maldonado and Parkland College transfer Garrett Acton. Maldonado made two hitless appearances this weekend, striking out three. Acton got the save in the Wake Forest game and only gave up one hit. Senior Sean Leland’s performance was a serious game-changer for the Illini against the Demon Deacons. Leland came into a 2-2 tie and gave Illinois the chance to win the game in the eighth. Ty Weber also played well this weekend giving the Illini 3.2 scoreless innings against Georgetown.

Freshman Making an Early Impact

Plenty of freshmen saw the field this weekend for Illinois. Other than Maldonado and McDonald, Branden Comia and Jacob Campbell got playing time over weekend. The true freshman combined to go 8-for-27 this weekend, just shy of .300. We will likely see plenty more from these four this season.

Cyrillo Watson’s Shut-out

Cyrillo Watson was lights out against Sacred Heart. Watson was ranked as the No. 6 MLB Draft prospect in the Big Ten by D1Baseball.com, but I’m not sure anyone really expected such a performance this early. He will likely stay on as the Sunday starter so that Hartleb can keep his righty-lefty-righty starting rotation, but it’s exciting to see what he will bring to the staff this year.

Ben Troike Missing this Weekend

Ben Troike didn’t see the field or the batter’s box over the weekend. Troike was a big part of the Illini offense last year, batting .299, and adding great speed to the front of the lineup. Troike was ranked the No. 17 shortstop in the nation by D1Baseball.com, so hopefully he will not be out for an extended amount of time.

The Illini will play a three-game series at Florida Atlantic University starting on Friday night at 5:30 p.m. CT.