Baseball Week 2 -- Electric Boogaloo
Week 2 - Electric Boogaloo
First, my apologies for the title of this blog. With the Flyin' Illini being celebrated this weekend in Champaign, I've gotten very 80s nostalgic. How nostalgic? I got excited when former Illini slugger Bubba Smith turned up at Wake Forest in the pre-game.
A game day visit from Illini great Bubba Smith pic.twitter.com/orvBs7xp4S
-- Dan Hartleb (@DanHartleb) February 16, 2019
Okay, you got me, Bubba graduated in 1991. Still the dude could hit as evidenced by his four home-run game against UIC back in 1991. Close enough.
At any rate, here we are in Week 2. Your Fighting Illini baseball team is coming off a 3-0 weekend at Wake Forest, including a victory over the No. 20-ranked Demon Deacons. However, with the rest of the Top 25 holding serve - save for No. 4 Louisville, which dropped a series to a future Illini opponent, Connecticut, and dropped to No. 8 - there wasn't room in this week's ranks for the Illini 9.
Just as I suspected while writing the season preview, the Illinois pitching carried the day. Other than Opening Day starter Quinn Snarskis not making it out of the fourth against Georgetown, the Illini hurlers were outstanding, posting a 1.33 team ERA and a .179 batting average against.
The bullpen, in particular, was outstanding. Drew Dickinson's firemen didn't allow a run in 11.2 innings and struck out 13. The only thing Dickinson might be upset about were the five walks issued by his relievers.
The real eye-opener, however, came in Sunday's finale. Fresh off earning the Sunday starter's spot, Jr. RHP Cyrillo Watson dealt a gem against Sacred Heart. Watson worked six shutout innings and scattered five hits, while striking out eight hitters and walking none.
D1baseball.com scouting chief David Seifert had Watson at 90-93 with his fastball despite the chilly temperatures.
Also catching Seifert's eye was Fr. 3B Cam McDonald, who came up with a pair of go-ahead hits in the victory over Wake Forest (prompting a text from the IB boss himself asking "This McDonald kid legit?" I then answered with the kid's life story spread over four texts, which I'm sure is more than Robert needed to know). McDonald showed off a well-rounded game as he finished the weekend hitting .400 (4-for-10) with three RBIs and three stolen bases. He also flawlessly handled 10 chances at third base.
.@cam_mcdonald4 coming up big. His second go-ahead hit of the day.
-- Illinois Baseball (@IlliniBaseball) February 16, 2019
Not to be outdone by a rookie, however, was wily veteran Zac Taylor. The R-SR. CF was on a tear all weekend - he hit .462 (6-for-13) with a home run, two doubles and two RBIs while also swiping five bags. Check out what Big 10 baseball expert Chris Webb had to say about Taylor and the Illini after opening weekend here:
-- Illinois Baseball (@IlliniBaseball) February 20, 2019
The Illini will need all of that production this weekend as they head south to take on a Florida Atlantic team that was picked third in Conference USA and is coming off a sweep of Cincinnati.
The Owls needed to rally to win the last two games of the series and then fell 11-4 to Miami on Wednesday night to stand at 3-1 overall.
FAU's bullpen was especially potent against the Bearcats. FAU relievers tossed 15 innings in the three games against Cincy and gave up just two earned runs on seven hits with 11 strikeouts and six walks. The main weapon in that bullpen is All-American closer Zach Schneider. The side-winding righty nailed down 15 saves a year ago. In his first appearance this season, he worked the final 4.1 innings of FAU's 8-7 win over Cincinnati in 11 innings on Saturday. He gave up just one unearned run on three hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
So the Illini bats needed to touch the Owls up early, ambush style. Aside from Friday night starter Blake Sanderson, who tossed six shutout, the FAU starters managed a combined nine innings with six runs allowed on nine hits, six strikeouts and six walks.
Dickinson's staff conversely will need to shut down the Owls' bats to end innings. FAU scored ALL 22 of its runs against Cincinnati with 2 outs. For the weekend, the Owls hit .310 with runners on base and .467 with runners in scoring position and two outs. In short, if two out hits get you to heaven, the Owls' hitters can afford to sin a little.
If you have any desire to watch this weekend, you can do so via FAU's live-streaming service at fausports.tv, but be forewarned there is a charge of $7/24 hours or $11/month. You can also listen for free via fightingillini.com