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Illinois hosts SIU for home opener this weekend

Home opening series for Illini is against inner state rival.

The Illini host Southern Illinois this weekend for a three-game set Saturday (doubleheader) and Sunday. Thirteen games into the regular season for the Illini, and they finally get to play a home game.

At the Plate

Illinois is coming off a three-game sweep of Grand Canyon in Arizona, including a Big Ten Player of the Week worthy performance from Jack Yalowitz. The senior hit two homers and drove in six runs in Phoenix, and looks to stay hot at the plate this week.

“I’m trying to be as simple as I can at the plate,” Yalowitz said. “Make it easier for me and not try to do too much.

“Last week was last week. It’s a new week now and I gotta go out and play with a fresh mind and not think about the past anymore... We had a good weekend, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t play well this weekend.”

Another Illini player who has played extremely well this season is Zac Taylor.

Coach Dan Hartleb is glad Taylor elected to stay on the team this year — rather than go for the MLB — and Taylor is showing massive improvements at the plate in his senior season.

“It’s nice to have Zac back.” Hartleb said. “I think he made a very good choice coming back to school. I think he has made a lot of adjustments, he continues to mature as a person, as a player. He’s been a key part of our success to this point and I know he’s gonna have a great year for us.”

Taylor is the only player in the nation batting .400 with 12 or more runs, 12 or more steals, and multiple home runs.

On the Hill

The Illini plan to roll out the same pitching rotation for this weekend as last, with Quinn Snarskis (9.58 ERA in three starts) out of the rotation for the second straight week.

Andy Fisher, Ty Weber and Cyrillo Watson will take the mound for the Illini this weekend.

Fisher is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA in four starts, his latest start in Arizona went into the eighth inning with a no-hitter before getting broken up by a bunt single.

Weber will be getting his third start of the season this weekend. He is looking for his first win to pair with his 1.80 ERA.

Watson is undefeated as a starter this season, with 2 wins and 2 no decisions. Watson is averaging nearly six innings per start and has a sub-three ERA.

Pitching coach Drew Dickinson believes these three games are crucial for multiple reasons.

Home Field “Advantage”

The Illini sported a home record a year ago of 15-9, and although that record is above average, Dickinson would like to see his team have more success at home.

“I wanna see us defend this home [field] a little bit.” Dickinson said. “Last year that was [what] my biggest gripe with our guys was you know what we went 15-9 at home last year, yeah 15-9 is good but in college baseball? Not good. Not if you want to make a regional, which is where we expect to be in the postseason.”

Inner State Dominance

There are 11 Illinois NCAA Division 1 teams, and the Illini find it important to win as many of those as they can.

“You want to beat all of your in state schools.” Dickinson said. “You always wanna win those games especially because you wanna win games period, right? But in recruiting if you’re battling a kid out you know you just wanna reign supreme in your state.”

The Illini hope that by winning games against in state opponents they can lure potential recruits from the state of Illinois to their program.

The Salukis?

The Salukis come to Champaign with a 10-5 record.

Southern Illinois is on a three-game win streak after their most recent win over Southeast Missouri.

Brad Harrison will most likely get the nod in one of three games this weekend, having started four games already and boasting a 2.08 ERA.

The Illini and the Salukis square off on a doubleheader starting at 12 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. All three games can be streamed on BTN2GO as they play their first games of the year at Illinois Field.

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