The Kids Are Alright
In turbulent Illini times, there's nothing like a win over the hated kitties of Miz-noz to cure what ails you.
And to play on words, the Illini kiddies seem to be coming of age. There was a lot to like from the youngsters coming out of Wednesday's 5-3 win over Mizzou in the Braggin Rights game in suburban Sauget.
Take, for example, the top of the Illini order headed by Soph. Jack Yalowitz and followed by Fr. Mike Massey. The duo combined for three home runs and six of the Illini's seven hits. Add in the fact that 3-hole hitter Pat McInerney was 1-for-3 with 2 walks and the third of the order was on base 11 out of 15 times. That makes it tough on opposing pitching.
Add in a sweep of Indiana State this past weekend during their Big 10 bye weekend and the Illini have some momentum as they head to No. 18-ranked Michigan for a 3-game set.
Offensively, the ship appears to be righting a little bit. And leading the way is Sr. 1B/RF McInerney, who enters the weekend hitting .333 with 6 doubles, 11 home runs and 26 RBIs.
The photo shows how McInerney's season is stacking up to Wake Forest's Gavin Sheets, who was named a mid-season second-team All-American by Perfect Game on Wednesday. Obviously, the RBIs hurt, but you can't ding a guy for not having anyone on base in front of him. And I'm sure there's some Big 10-ACC bias built in there as well, but still that's a pretty good comp.
Add in Yalowitz clipping along at .355 with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs and 24 RBIs to go along with 11 stolen bases and the Illini have some offensive momentum.
And there's some pitching momentum as well. Freshman righty Ty Weber scooped a pair of pitching awards. He was named Big 10 Conference Freshman of the Week and Big 10 Pitcher of the Week after a dominant outing against Indiana State on Saturday. Over nine innings, the freshman from Wisconsin gave up just four hits, one earned run, seven strikeouts and one walk.
The lone earned run was a doozy. Weber came into the ninth inning having retired 13 batters in a row and retired the first two in the ninth before surrendering a solo home run that tied the game. The victory was saved when McInerney slammed a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to cement a 2-1 win.
Another key piece of the pitching puzzle fell into place against Indiana State as well. Freshman righty Joey Gerber appears to have seized the closer's role.
In two wins over Indiana State and the win over Mizzou, Gerber came on in the ninth and struck out 7 batters and walked none while surrendering just two hits.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Illini hit the road this weekend to take on the No. 18-ranked Wolverines of Michigan...The Michigan offense is ridiculously consistent -- seven of their reguarls come in hitting .281 or better, including four who are above the .300 mark...The primary run producer is Drew Lugbauer, who comes in hitting just .286, but finds himself near the top of the Big 10 in home runs (8) and RBIs (34)...The Illini catching corps will also be tested this weekend as Michigan has three players with double-digit steal totals already this season...Ako Thomas (an Illinois product) leads the Wolverines with 16 thefts...The Wolverine pitching staff has been very consistent as well...Three of their four starters have ERAs under 4.00...Michael Hendrickson and Oliver Jaskie have been a formidable 1-2 punch for Erik Bakich's squad...They are a combined 7-1 and opponents are hitting .211 and .228 off of them, respectively...Both of Michigan's losses came to Maryland -- Bakich's former squad -- on the opening weekend of Big 10 play.
P.S. I wrote that lede on Wednesday morning. Wednesday two terrible things happened, both Mizzou related. Tilmon de-commits and that same day Cuonzo Martin hires Chris Hollender, a guy I've known going back nearly two decades. Curse you Miznoz. Curse you.