After the Illini’s 27-game winning streak ended last night/this morning, I (Ben) felt like Will Ferrell aka Frank the Tank after his wife and her friends have happened upon him streaking in the film “Old School.”
“We were streaking. Everybody was doing it.
“Frank, get in the car.”
“Ok. Honey, is KFC still open?”
(Side note: Why is the No. 1 seed playing in a game SCHEDULED for a 9 p.m. start? Come on B1G Conference. If anything, you start the loser’s bracket at 9 a.m. That’s your punishment for losing. That way you’ve got games scheduled for 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. And then, when you get the inevitable overruns in time, your top seed is still starting at 7:30 or 8 p.m. INSTEAD OF 9:54 P.M.?!?!?!? I can’t imagine how Dan Hartleb and his staff tried to prepare those kids for an entire day off before a late start.)
Neverthless, like Frank the Tank, the Illini baseball team perseveres. The Orange and Blue 9 must avoid Frank’s flirtation with the abyss brought on by a tranquilizer dart to the neck and instead find that zen-like blackout when Frank debated political consultant James Carville as they move through the loser’s bracket.
Of course, the question is, how does this affect Illinois’ postseason chances? As long as they don’t lose tonight’s 7:30 p.m. start against Michigan State, they should be fine. Of course, Michigan State was the last team to beat the Illini before Maryland. But, according to D1baseball.com writer Aaron Fitt, the Illini are still all but guaranteed to in this morning’s stock report, they Illini were still secure in their bid to host a national seed.
The Fighting Illini’s pitching has been simply outstanding so far in the tournament – starters Kevin Duchene and Drasen Johnson have given up 2 earned runs in 2 starts and the team has given up five total.
What’s more disconcerting is the Illini’s lack of offense – more specifically their lack of offense early. As I noted in a previous post, the Fighting Illini offense has been a little inconsistent lately, red-hot one game, colder than Anna and Elsa the next. (You can’t escape Frozen. Because…you just can’t. Better to accept the fate and move on.) But just to give you an example, over the last two games, the Illini’s No. 1-7 hitters are a combined 10-48 – a .208 batting average.
What’s the good news you ask? Well, the pendulum is bound to swing back the other way eventually. You don’t field a team with 11 all-B1G selections, including the Player of the Year David Kerian, and stay in a prolonged slump.
Speaking of postseason honors, left-handed RELIEVER (*cough*Keith Law*cough*) Tyler Jay was announced as a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the top college baseball player. Unlike football or basketball, there are players from lower-division schools that are eligible for the award. This year’s it’s former Cal State-Fullerton pitcher Phil Bickford, who transferred to Bryce Harper’s alma mater, the College of Southern Nevada, in an effort to be draft eligible sooner.
And speaking of Tyler Jay, Baseball America released its latest mock draft on Friday afternoon. Guess who is going No. 1 overall? Tyler. Jay. And Jim Callis, a former Executive Editor at Baseball America and now a senior writer for MLB.com, released his mock draft this week as well. He has Jay going No. 3 overall to the Rockies in MLB’s First-Year Player Draft, which begins June 8. Callis also notes that UC-Santa Barbara RHP Dillon Tate, who made a Keith Law approved move to the starting rotation, has faded down the stretch and seen his stock drop. But is Keith Law badmouthing UCSB coach Andrew Checketts? He is not.
So what do the next few days look like for the Fighting Illini? They can still win the conference title, but it’s going to take some outstanding pitching from Drew Dickinson’s staff. At some point, the scouts may get their wish and see Jay make a start. Either way, they are now four wins a way from a clean sweep of B1G baseball titles.
Sunday night, the NCAA will announce whether Illinois Field’s bid to host a regional has been approved. According to today’s Champaign News-Gazette, the university is adding temporary bleachers down each line that, when combined with standing room only counts, will bump the facility’s total capacity to somewhere around 2,500. While that doesn’t compare with the baseball palaces of the SEC and PAC-12, Illinois’ reward for an outstanding season is getting to host.
Monday, the Fighting Illini will found out who they are facing in their regional. D1baseball.com’s latest projections had the Illini playing host to Kentucky, Oregon State and Central Michigan. It will be interesting to see if that holds. Central Michigan is the MAC champion and has made a habit of dipping into Illinois regularly for players thanks to recruiting coordinator Jeff Opalewski’s ties to the Illinois Sparks travel-baseball program. That program also regularly supplies Dan Hartleb’s clubs with talent as it is headed by former Illini great Dave Payton.