The Illinois Fighting Illini take on Purdue this weekend at Illinois Field for the team’s last home series of 2019, and the Illini will be without both their starting shortstop and leadoff hitter: Ben Troike.
Troike was hit by a pitch on his hand last weekend against Indiana. The junior missed the third and final game of the series and it was announced on Thursday by the team that Troike would miss the remainder of the season.
Troike was hitting .260 with two homers and 21 RBI on the season, all while getting on base at a clip of .348 at the top of the order and coming around to score 28 times. He has also been playing Gold Glove caliber defense at shortstop with a .975 fielding percentage.
It is assumed that the team will approach the situation similarly to when Michael Massey could not play defense, with freshman Branden Comia hitting in Troike’s spot in the order and playing shortstop.
Massey feels comfortable with both Ben Troike and Branden Comia, having known both of them from the Illinois Sparks travel organization for over six years.
Comia got the chance to fill the void of Troike on Sunday against Indiana, and Massey spoke highly of his new double-play partner.
“He did awesome, he stepped up in a big situation and it’s not easy to replace [Troike],” Massey said postgame on Sunday. “He stepped up and played well, made all the plays defensively had a couple of good at-bats. I feel comfortable with him out there.”
Although it will be difficult to fully replace Troike, head coach Dan Hartleb mentioned that the team has had to do this pretty much all year, with the absences at times of Massey, Zac Taylor and Troike.
“We have had a major injury the entire season,” Hartleb said. “There’s been someone who’s been out that has been a major part of our program. This groups done a great job of stepping up.”
The Illini stand at No. 25 in the nation, with a 31-16 record on the season and 10-8 in Big Ten play, two games back of second place.
Having won 15 of 19 games at home this year, the Illini host 19-28 Purdue for three games this weekend.
The final three home games of the year will begin with Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and NCBWA National Player of the Week Andy Fisher on the mound.
“It’s awesome,” Fisher said. “I never expected anything like this to happen. I feel so lucky to be starting for Illinois, the awards are just icing on the cake.”
Fisher shut down then No. 19 Indiana with 8 shut out innings to earn the accolades and has been on fire for the Illini. In his last four starts, Fisher is 4-0 with 26 innings pitched, a 1.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts (over one per inning) to bring his season to 6-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 79 strikeouts.
“I hope to continue winning, that is all that matters at this point,” Fisher said. “Purdue likes to run, so keeping guys off base will be key this weekend.
“Going forward, we want to win enough games to host,” Fisher said. “However, we can’t look ahead. Winning is tough, and we need to take each game seriously and not be thiking about playoffs yet. We have a long way to go still.”
Saturday and Sunday’s starters will be Ty Weber and Cyrillo Watson for the Illini.
Weber (4-1) pitched six shutout innings against Indiana last time out, bringing his ERA to 2.56 on the season, best of Illinois’ starting pitchers.
Watson will look to get back on track for Illinois, after struggling against Indiana a week ago. Watson still boasts a 4-2 record with a 3.69 ERA.
At the plate, the Illini will look to Michael Massey and Zac Taylor to carry the offensive load. Massey and Taylor have 12 homers and 47 RBI combined and have been a solid 1-2 punch behind Troike all year long.
With Troike out, expect Branden Comia to take the majority of at-bats in the leadoff spot, with potential for Grant Van Scoy to shoot up in the order, considering the senior has a team best .354 batting average and a .437 on base percentage.
Since Comia has been struggling (.140 batting average in last 50 at-bats) do not be surprised if Dan Hartleb decides to really shake up this lineup.
Van Scoy is next in line behind Comia to play short. If that should happen expect Cam McDonald to play third and either Michael Michalak or Andrew Dyke to play left field with the other player being the designated hitter.
Jacob Campbell and Jeff Korte have been good behind — and at — the plate this season, and one of the pair could be slotted to designated hitter if Van Scoy moves to short.
AROUND THE BASES
FIRST BASE: Friday is ‘90s night, Saturday is Honor & Serve Day and Sunday is both Senior Day and Mother’s Day.
SECOND BASE: Garrett Acton sits just two saves away (16) of the all-time Big Ten record (18) with six games left to play in the regular season.
THIRD BASE: This is Illinois’ broadcaster Dave Loane’s last home series at Illinois Field in his broadcasting career, as he his retiring after the season.
HOME PLATE: This weekend marks seniors Andy Fisher, Jack Yalowitz, Ryan Haff, Michael Michalak, David Craan, Zak Devermann, Tyler Engel, Grant Van Scoy, Casey Dodge, Jeff Korte, Quinn Snarskis, Zac Taylor, Sean Leland and Quinten Sefcik’s final games at Illinois Field in their Illinois career (not including juniors Michael Massey or Ben Troike’s potential to get drafted).
HOW TO WATCH
All three games can be streamed on BTN Plus. Friday’s begins at 6 p.m., Saturday’s at 3 p.m. and Sunday’s at 4 p.m.
Illinois finishes the regular season by traveling to Michigan State next Thursday through Saturday.
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