Illinois is ready to hit the road after coming off a mid-week win against Bradley and a series sweep against Penn State last weekend.
The Illini got to .500 in the Big Ten after a rocky start in conference games. This will help their chances at the NCAA tournament, but in order to reach that goal, what Illinois needs to produce is plain and simple: wins.
Illinois is the top-ranked team in the Big Ten conference at No. 23 in the RPI with Nebraska third, at No. 37. When these two teams met last season, Illinois took two of three games for the final series of the season.
Illinois has continuously played close games, including the one against Bradley that went into 10 innings. The challenge for them this weekend isn’t just going to be wins, but getting ahead earlier on in the game, and maintaining the lead instead of constantly fighting back for it.
What do these teams have in common?
A strong bullpen.
Illinois ace and left-handed pitcher Andy Fisher will be on the mound Friday night against Nebraska right-hander Mike Waldron. While Waldron’s ERA may look better (1.84) compared to Fisher’s (3.19), Fishers longest outing of the season has been 8.1 innings — compared to Waldron’s 5 innings. If Fisher can pull through with another long outing, he’d help save Illinois bullpen for the rest of the weekend. Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh in the nation in hits allowed per nine innings (6.98).
Ty Weber (3-1, 2.79) will be up against Fisher (4-1, 2.81) on Saturday, followed by Cyrillo Watson (4-1, 3.26) and Reece Eddins (4-1, 3.86) on Sunday.
With two strong bullpens, each team’s offense is going to be put to work.
Who to Look Out For
- Grant Van Scoy is on a career-long 22 game reached base streak and is leading the Illini in batting average at .358.
- Michael Massey has proved to earn his spot back at second base after injury and is still hitting at the top of the lineup with a .343 batting average. Massey earned his 100th career RBI against Penn State.
- Zac Taylor leads Illinois with six homers and has 14 stolen bases.
If Illinois can succeed in this series, that will put them in a better spot for the NCAA tournament, seeing that they only have 14 games left on the season, including this series against Nebraska.
Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Saturday’s at 2:05 p.m. and Sunday’s at 11:05 a.m. in Lincoln.
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