Illinois is dancing again!
Illinois Baseball heard its name called during Monday morning’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, and the Illini will open tourney play versus Clemson in the Oxford Regional. Despite Illinois’ early exit in the Big Ten Tournament, the Illini will make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since hosting the NCAA Regionals in 2015.
BREAKING: @IlliniBaseball lands in the Oxford Regional as a two seed.— Gavin Good (@itsallG_O_O_D) May 27, 2019
They’ll face Clemson (No. 38 in RPI) on Friday.
This is the #Illini’s fourth NCAA Regional berth in the last nine years, their 12th appearance as a program and their first since 2015. pic.twitter.com/3FtxWp2j8H
Illinois is the No. 2 seed in the regional, behind Ole Miss and ahead of Clemson and Jacksonville State.
The Illini (36-19, 15-9 Big Ten) finished off the season with a disappointing exit in the Big Ten Tournament. After losing its first game to the Maryland Terrapins, Illinois dropped its second game of the double-elimination bracket to Michigan and was eliminated. Still, Illinois finished the season ranked No. 19 in the national polls.
Andy Fisher will make the first start in the tournament for the Illini. He put together a nice outing against the Terrapins, throwing 6.1 innings and only giving up one run on three hits. Fisher was one of four Illini named to the All-Big Ten First-Team.
Head Coach Dan Hartleb will take his fourth team to the NCAA tournament since taking over for “Itch” Jones in 2005. Hartleb broke the Illinois record for most NCAA Tournament appearances as head coach  in 2015. The 2015 team reached the Super Regionals, but was eliminated by Vanderbilt in a three-game series.
About the Regional
Clemson, Illinois’ first matchup, finished the season 34-24 (15-15 ACC). The Tigers’ season ended with a round robin win over Louisville in the ACC Tournament, but Clemson did slug to the finish line, losing nine out of 10 games at one point in April. If Illinois takes care of sluggers Grayson Byrd and Logan Davidson, the Illini shouldn't have too many issues with Clemson. On the hill, a lot of guys got starts this year, so it’s not too clear who may get the nod on Friday afternoon.
Ole Miss, the regional host, finished the season 37-25 (16-14 in the loaded SEC). The Runnin’ Rebels’ run in the SEC Tournament ended with a 11-10 loss in the championship game to Vanderbilt. Four starters hit over .300 this season and Tyler Keenan clubbed 13 homers and drove in 60 runs. Ole Miss’ weakness may be on the bump, where two of the four regular starters had ERAs nearing or above 5.00, and no big strikeout arms.
Lastly, there’s Jacksonville State, the winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Gamecocks went 37-21 (22-8 OVC) this season and took two out of three from Purdue in a non-conference series earlier this season, but struggled overall against high-level competition (and the Boilermakers certainly had a down season). One name to know here is Jackson Travel (sick last name), who garnered a 1.98 ERA in 41 innings out of the pen this year.
How to Watch
Illinois’ first pitch of the tournament is Friday at approximately 3 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU. The regional will run until Monday (if necessary).
Regionals are double-elimination, so Illinois will have to avoid a pair of losses to advance to Super Regionals, which begin next weekend with a best-of-three series for a trip to the College World Series.
We will have a full Tournament preview as we near Illinois’ first game later this week.
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