Illinois faces its biggest series challenge of the season against the Minnesota Golden Gophers this weekend in Minneapolis. The Illini are in desperate need of a Big Ten series win in order to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“We got our backs against the wall a little bit. We need to start winning Big Ten games,” said head coach Dan Hartleb after Saturday’s doubleheader. “We have only scored 17 runs in six games and we haven’t pitched well in the bullpen or starts.”
Illinois had dropped its first two Big Ten series in a sweep against Iowa and a series loss against Maryland this past weekend. The team dropped another Tuesday game against in-state rival Illinois State in the 13 innings.
“It was a tough one to lose,” Hartleb told FightingIllini.com. “We did compete very well. I’ll take the energy we had. I’ll take the heart we had. There were a lot of things that bit us, that happens sometimes in baseball. We have to regroup a little bit and go after this weekend.”
Both the bats and pitching has been cold for the Illini. In the Maryland series, Illinois was only able to bat a team average of .220. Pitching wasn’t much better, posting a team earned run average of 4.00 compared to Maryland’s 2.77.
On the plus side, Illinois has welcomed back Zac Taylor and Michael Massey from injury. Taylor was batting .400 with three home runs before getting injured in March. Massey was still in the lineup at the designated hitter spot, but the Gold Glove winner was barred from playing the field. With both back healthy, the Illini should see a boost in offense and on the field.
Hartleb will need better play from his freshman. Branden Comia, Jacob Cambell, and Cam McDonald have been keys to Illinois’ hot start in March, but Illini has suffered from less production from these three. The trio combined for four hits in 22 at-bats this weekend.
Illinois will look to get their first Big Ten series win this weekend in Minneapolis with first pitch on Friday will be at 6:30 p.m. CT. Sunday’s game can be watched on the Big Ten Network at 1:30 p.m. CT.
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