If you were to ask someone about what was the most prevalent sport on campus back in 2015, it would more than likely have been this baseball team.
Illinois Field in Champaign had never been home to a regional, much less a super regional in the NCAA Tournament. This season changed that.
That Illini team got the overall No. 6 seed in the tournament following a 47-8-1 record during the regular season and Big Ten Tournament, along with capturing a regular-season Big Ten title.
There were some big names from that team.
Some of the pitchers were Tyler Jay, Kevin Duchene, Rob McDonnell, Drasen Johnson and Nick Blackburn. Then some big-name position players were first baseman David Kerian (who was also the Big Ten Player of the Year that season), catcher Jason Goldstein, shortstop Adam Walton and outfielder Ryan Nagle.
All of them were drafted to the MLB in the 2015 draft.
The Illini were selected to host the Ohio Bobcats from the Mid-American, Notre Dame from the Atlantic Coast, and Wright State of the Horizon league.
It’s safe to say they didn’t run into any issues making it through this regional.
They started it off against Ohio where they won 10-3 behind the arm of Kevin Duchene. The Illini got up 6-2 early after two innings and it was smooth sailing from there. The offense was led behind 10 hits, which included two home runs and a handful of extra base hits, along with a couple errors by the Bobcat defense.
The win against Ohio then pinned the Illini against Notre Dame, and the Illini got the win in a shutout, 3-0. Drasen Johnson earned his 10th win of the season against the Irish and the Illini were led on offense by 10 hits.
The win only meant the Illini needed only one more to advance and to host a super regional.
They were then matched against their last test which was Wright State, who had just eliminated Notre Dame.
The Illini were faced with a 2-0 deficit through four full innings but then the offense eventually came alive and ended up taking a 4-2 lead, which led to an 8-4 win over the Raiders. The offense was led by 13 hits, which included a home run and three different RBI doubles.
The Illini had three different pitchers pitch in the game but the win was credited to the middle man J.D. Nielsen.
The Illini had just advanced to their first super regional in program history.
Standing in their way of a trip to Omaha though was SEC juggernaut Vanderbilt, who had just won its regional.
Champaign Super Regional
The Illini were coming off picking up their 50th win of the season and were readily awaiting game one against Vanderbilt, but unfortunately the Commodores made their trip to Champaign quick.
Game one was a Vanderbilt blowout win 13-0 and nothing went right for the Illini at all. The Illini were only held to five hits while Vanderbilt had 15.
The backs of the Illini were now against the wall.
Game two was a must-win situation for the Illini and it was going well at first behind the arm of Tyler Jay as they held a 2-1 lead through three innings, but then the Commodores scored three unanswered while the Illini did not score again.
A 4-2 loss eliminated the Illini and Vanderbilt advanced to the College World Series.
While the season ended prematurely for this team, it was still an incredible and memorable one.