Startin' To Come Together
Dan Hartleb looked relieved on Tuesday night after his Illini 9 rallied to beat Bradley 4-2 at Dozer Park in Peoria.
"I'm glad we came back to win that one," Hartleb said. "We'd been playing not to lose lately."
As I sat with fans of the Illini, Bradley and just baseball in general, one of the questions that kept popping up was: what happened to the team that started 17-4?
Maybe it was regression to the mean. Maybe it had something to do with Hartleb having to juggle his lineup to account for people being injured and coming back from injury. We may never know.
All I know is, during those first couple conference weekends, I wanted to go fetal and I needed my Chief Illiniwek binky.
The good news is the Illini are still projected to make the tournament despite being 9-9 over the last three weeks.
According to D1baseball.com, the Hartleb's squad is projected as a No. 2 seed. Granted it's a lower No. 2 as they are projected to be sent to No. 2 overall national seed - and defending national champion - Oregon St., but at least we're still in.
That news brightened my Monday.
My Tuesday was brightened by seeing the Illini take on Bradley on Tuesday night. It was a tremendous game.
Sr. RHP Quinn Snarskis made what amounted to a rehab start. The senior, who was Illinois' No. 1 all last year and for the first three weekends this year, was on a pitch count, but still managed to strike out four hitters in 2.1 innings of work. He's not Friday night-sharp just yet, but bringing Snarskis back to the fold will be a boon for pitching coach Drew Dickinson as he looks to lighten the load on his bullpen headed into the second half of the season.
Defensively, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about Jr. 2B Michael Massey. He made a charging play on the move in the middle innings and it looked like he just couldn't sink his hips to get low enough to make the play as slickly as we are used to. That one can obviously be offset by the presence of freshman Branden Comia, who filled in more than capably in Massey's absence.
(Side note: we added another Comia this week when his younger brother, Jayden, a member of the Class of 2022 C/IF who's currently starting on the varsity for Orland Park Sandburg, verbally pledged to Dan Hartleb's squad.)
And speaking of recruits, you may not have noticed last week, but Hartleb and recruiting coordinator Adam Christ snuck a good one out of the state of Arizona. Outfielder Antoine Mistico (what a name!) signed his letter of intent out of Gateway Community College. Mistico was a 14th-round pick of the Tigers coming out of high school in Arizona in 2017.
?? Detroit Tigers' 14th round pick in 2017
?? 52-56 stolen bases in juco
?? 9 HRs in two juco seasons
?? Chandler HS record 33-33 stolen bases pic.twitter.com/74JdAknN5T
-- Illinois Baseball (@IlliniBaseball) April 8, 2019
He opted to forego signing in favor of attending Scottsdale C.C. You may have noticed that differs from the JUCO above. And here's where the smallest concern creeps in - we'll be his fourth college. He played his freshman year in 2018 at Scottsdale and then signed with Grand Canyon University after this freshman year. After a semester at Grand Canyon, he left. I'm guessing he wanted to go back to Scottsdale, but they were out of scholarship money and that left him to pick from those with money available and that's how he ended up at Gateway.
Whatever the case, you can't argue with his production when he's been on the field. The Arizona JUCOs are all wood bat and Mistico is hitting .344 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in 41 attempts. That's right, he's been caught stealing ONCE!!!
Now we have to go to Nebraska to take on a Husker team that is 11-4 in the Big 10 and in second place.
I have a feeling this team is coming back together. But the rule in college baseball is keep winning series. And the Illini dug themselves a hole by losing series to Maryland and Iowa. If they want to solidify their tournament resume and lock in their spot, they have to start now.