Date: April 2nd - 4th
Time: April 2nd (Fri.) @ 6:00 p.m, April 3rd (Sat.) @ 5:00 p.m, April 4th (Sun.) @ noon.
Location: Illinois Field, Champaign, Illinois
Record(s): Illinois (7-8) T-7th in Big Ten (Iowa, Michigan State)
Nebraska: (11-4) T-2nd in Big Ten (Michigan)
Head Coach(s): Dan Hartleb
Radio: Husker Sports Network
The Cornhuskers take a trip down to Champaign to take on the Fighting Illini in what should be a really interesting series. Coming off of a very impressive series sweep of the Minnesota Golden Gophers of which the Huskers outscored the Gophers 39 - 12, the Huskers have to be one of if not the most confident teams in the nation (no doubt the most entertaining). For the Huskers the main story has been the bats, everybody seems to be hitting at all the right times. One of the best offensive teams in the country, it seems like a different player highlights every game.
Senior catcher Luke Roskam went 7 - 13 on the weekend with two home runs and nine RBI on the weekend, capped by a grand slam in the last game of the series. Cam Chick was at it again who has been a consistently tough out for the Huskers this year, with four hits, three walks, and seven RBI against the Gophers. captains Joe Acker and Spencer Schwellenbach impressed as well with six walks for Acker and Schwellenbach was named the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Week award after going 6 for 15 with five RBI and two doubles and a save.
Illinois is not exactly Minnesota however coming in at 7-8 on the season. They come off of a disappointing series loss against Northwestern looking to turn it around. The Illini overall have been, decent? They’ve lost some close games against some good teams and this should be one of the more interesting series we’ve seen so far for the Huskers in 2021.
March 2nd: vs Illinois @ 6:00 p.m
March 3rd: vs Illinois @ 5:00 p.m
March 4th: vs Illinois @ 12:00 p.m
The Illini have a good team, we only see them some of the time. The inconsistency of this team is something that the coaching staff and players have been trying to fix since the very beginning of this season, but there have been some flashes of really, really good baseball. In the past few years, pitching and defense have been the name of the game for this team and they come into this season with a .972 fielding percentage so that hasn’t really changed.
Pitching for the Illini has been okay, the team owns a 5.95 ERA which is middle of the pack in the Big Ten as opposed to the 3.58 ERA the Huskers own. Both teams are striking out hitters at a similar clip with Illinois striking out 134 in 133 innings and the Huskers at 136 in 125.2.
The starting pitching has lacked with only one of the teams four starters having an ERA under five. JUCO addition Andrew Hoffman is leading the staff right now with a 3.68 ERA and 27 strikeouts. Cole Kirschsieper has a ton of promise but has struggled to a 6.48 ERA and has been getting hit rather hard. The rotation is rounded out by Ty Rybarczyk and Riley Gowens who own an 11.81 and 6.17 ERA respectively. All these guys with the exception of Hoffman have been getting hit hard.
The bullpen however has been a different story for this team, the bullpen has been keeping this team close enough to score runs late in games and steal some tough wins. Four pitchers have above four appearances and also sub 3.5 ERA’s in Nathan Lavender (0.75), Ryan Kutt (2.00), Ryan O’Hara (2.70), and Alex Vera (3.18). Lavender also has 21 strikeouts in 12 innings. Joseph Glassey, Aiden Maldonado, and Jack Crowder have also been frequently turned to options but own ERA’s near or above 7.00. This is a team that you can expect a lot of different combinations of guys to come in and get outs for the Illini.
Offensively this team hits, and they hit slightly better than the Huskers in many categories which is hard to believe. The Huskers hit for power and contact both whereas the Illini hit almost exclusively to contact. It seems like the Huskers are scoring runs when they need to and Illinois has been missing those clutch hits. Illinois comes into the series hitting .284 with only 12 home runs as opposed to the Huskers .274 and 20 home runs. Both teams steal bases semi often at a similar rate but Illinois strikes out less than the Huskers. Illinois has five guys hitting above .300 right now and three of which are slugging above .500.
The offense is lead by star shortstop Brandon Comia who just continues to rake again this year and is one the top MLB prospect’s in the Big Ten. Comia is 20 for 54 on the season with one homer, nine RBI, and nine walks, with a 500 OBP%. Catcher Ryan Hampe is right behind him, hitting .317 two homers nine RBI but leads the team in strikeouts at 16. Senior infielder Jackson Raper leads the team with 14 RBI and four homers while also hitting .324. Freshman Justin Janas and junior Taylor Jackson are also hitting above .300.
Bottom line is, both of these teams are two of the better hitting teams in the Big Ten but the Huskers put it all together a little bit better, as well as pairing it with their pitching more efficiently. The Huskers also shuffle their line up around a lot more than Illinois does and I like where their depth puts them, with 13 players having over 20 AB’s versus Illinois with 10. Both of these teams are going to put up runs this weekend, but the Huskers have been steamrolling teams and rarely look stressed out when behind, their confidence and all cylinders rolling attitude is going to be tough for the Illini to pair up with, but they definitely have the ability to do so if they can play up to their talent.
Prediction: Huskers win series 2 to 1.