Make Your Name
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Ever wonder what it might be like if our hoops squad hadn't hit the skids following the departures of Dee and Deron et al? Would we be included in the big events like Maui or the Champions Classic at every opportunity?
Well our baseball team has that opportunity. Dan Hartleb's squad is headed to Frisco, Texas to take on three of the nation's Top 25 teams - No. 13 Texas A & M (Friday), No. 23 Oklahoma State and #1 UCLA - as part of the Frisco Classic, which is rapidly becoming one of college baseball's early season gems in terms of the talent and teams it attracts.
(Side note: how about college baseball polls? UCLA is ranked anywhere from No. 10 to No. 1. Yikes! (Second side note: you can actually watch this weekend via FloSports and their SnowBird Baseball channel. Sure it will cost you $12.49, but totally worth it I promise).
The Illini are coming off a 2-1 trip to Myrtle Beach in which they picked up momentum by topping host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and West Virginia on Sunday. The lone blemish on the trip was a 9-2 loss to Coastal Carolina on Friday that saw the Illini surrender four unearned runs on five errors in the first 3.1 innings. That left starter Jimmy Burnette out to dry. The lone bright spots? A homer by juco transfer Garrett McGowan and 4.1 innigns of 1-run, 5-hit basball by another juco bandit in Ty Rybarczyk, who is now carrying the same ERA he posted at Parkland College - 0.96 - through his first 9.1 innings of work. He's also struck out 11 and walked just two hitters.
In fact, don't look now, but Mark Allen's pitching staff is carrying a 3.74 ERA through six games. Three of the Illini's primary arms - Rybarczyk, Ty Weber (0.82) and Garrett Acton (0.00) - are carrying sub-1.00 ERAs.
Weber will start Friday night against Texas A & M, while Rybarczyk takes the Saturday slot against Oklahoma St. Soph. RHP Aidan Maldonado, who has been solid in his first two weekend appearances, including a three-inning save against West Virginia last weekend in which he allowed just one hit in those final three frames.
Offensively, things are still coming together. On the plus side, Soph. SS Branden Comia is one of just two underclass shortstops in the country hitting better than .400 with an OPS of 1.150 or better. It shot, he's been hot. Two junior college transfers Alex Steinbach (.353) and Taylor Jackson (.320) have also made themselves at home. But after that, there's a drop off to another juco transfer - Nathan Aide - at .263. The squad as a whole is hitting just .200. That could be rough when runs are at a premium against teams like UCLA, who has given up just eight runs in seven games.
Overall, this is one of those weekends you have to love as a northern school. This a chance for kids like Ty Rybarczyk or Taylor Jackson to make their name on a national level. It's a chance for the program as a whole to put more notches in its belt as it continue to climb toward a consistent spot among the nation's elite.