Hey there! Chief Chicken Little here. Our team is losing! Our team is losing!
Monday, following our Illini 9's sweep at the hands of hated Iowa, I was fairly sure we had been at the peak of the rollercoaster and were about to plunge down the drop, particularly with No. 19 Coastal Carolina coming to town.
(Before we continue, can you blame me??? Have we not all just become Orange and Blue Charlie Brown's? We have hope (put a whoopin' on Minnesota football or Michigan St. basketball) and next thing you know Lucy (i.e. Nebraska and Iowa football or Indiana/Penn St. basketball) yanks the hope away.
At any rate, following the disastrous weekend in Iowa City, D1baseball.com released its first Field of 64 projections. No way we're in, right? After all, we just got swept by a middle of the pack team as part of an ongoing four-game losing streak. And the Big Ten isn't the strongest conference at No. 7 in the RPI this year.
I must confess that I immediately scrolled to the last four in/first four out. The Illini weren't even listed. Ouch. That sweep REALLY did hurt us. And then, as I scrolled back up, I saw the phrase "Illinois." Who could it have been? One of the directional schools? Illinois State, who maintained a top 40 RPI even after getting swept by us?
Nope, it was our beloved Orange and Blue. They were projected to get a No. 2 seed and sent to Lubbarillo (RIP Dan Jenkins) where the top-seeded Red Raiders of Texas Tech would be waiting.
So that was the first bit of good news this week. And then Tuesday and Thursday unfolded better than we could have possibly imagined.
No. 19-ranked Coastal Carolina came to Champaign with a high-powered offense ranked No. 12 in the country in team batting average (.307) and No. 5 in runs scored with 27 home runs and 52 doubles as a team. The Chanticleers left scoring a total of three runs on 12 hits in 18 innings and victims of a 4-2, 4-1 sweep.
The pitching, which had been the biggest worry in my Monday post, proved stellar - particularly out of the bullpen. Dan Hartleb ran out six relievers, four of whom - Sean Leland, Quinten Sefcik, Ryan Schmitt and Garrett Acton - worked both nights. That group responded by tossing a total of 9.2 innings in the two-game set - so literally more than half the series - and gave up ZERO runs on just three hits with a combined 16 strikeouts and just four walks. Acton picked up a pair of saves, his ninth and tenth, respectively, which ranks him second nationally behind Andrew Gross of Texas-Arlington, who has 12.
The offense was aggressive, ambushing the Chanticleer pitching staff for all four runs in the first on Tuesday night, including an absolute bomb by freshman second baseman Branden Comia. Maybe there was a little too much aggression as evidenced by Grant Van Scoy's adventure in bat flipping.
Foul Pole is really funny until you actually make it on here.. in the mean time, I'll be in the weight room ??????? https://t.co/6jFXg6TrY9
-- Grant Van Scoy (@iRockTheVANScoy) April 3, 2019
Kudos to Grant for handling that with a self-deprecating sense of humor!
So now Maryland comes to town. As I mentioned previously, the Terps have been on a bit of a down note lately. They gave up 39 runs to Indiana in the last two games of their opening Big 10 series and dropped an 8-1 decision to William & Mary on Wednesday night.
Not only do the Terps give up a lot of runs, their offense sputters a bit too. They will bring a .226 team batting average with them to the House of 'Paign on Friday. They have four regulars batting below .250 in the lineup.
In short, this is a chance to rebuild the momentum of that fantastic start before heading to Minnesota, which qualified for a Super Regional a year ago, next weekend.