Illini Secure National Seed, Prepare To Host Regional
This weekend will be one of firsts for the Illinois baseball team. They're hosting their first-ever NCAA Regional, and are a national seed for the first time, giving them home field advantage should they make the next round of the tournament.
Big Ten Player of the Year David Kerian said he’s not concerned about his team’s early exit from the Big Ten Tournament, where they finished 2-2.
"We didn’t play like we usually do at Minneapolis, so we’re ready to get back home where we’re comfortable, and be a completely different team than we were in the tournament," he said. "We’re going to be ready to make some noise."
Illinois, the No. 1 seed at the Regional, will take on No.4 seed Ohio at 7 p.m. Friday night. The other two teams coming to Champaign, No 3. seed Wright State and 4th seeded Notre Dame, play at 12 p.m. Friday to start the weekend series.
Should the Illini win the regional, they'll host a Super Regional the weekend of June 5-8.
Coach Dan Hartleb, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, said the national ranking also means those around the country understand the quality of baseball being played at the University of Illinois all season.
"I think we can compete with anybody in the country," he said. "Not only our pitching, but we’ve been very, very good defensively throughout the year, and offensively, we’ve got threats from top to bottom. So it’s going to be tough for people to come into here and beat us.”
Illinois, the No. 6 overall seed in in the 2015 NCAA Baseball Championship, has 47 wins (2 shy of the school record set in 1982 of 49) and set a Big Ten record with 27 straight, a streak that only ended last week when they lost to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament. Hartleb said anything can happen over a couple days in a tournament setting.
“It was almost nice to get the monkey off our back with the streak, and so it’s a chance to catch a guy’s attention a little bit in practice, and move forward, we’ll be much relaxed going into this tournament," he said.
The Illini are also 22-2 at home this season.
"Our home crowd is crazy here," said Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Tyler Jay. "We've got great fans. So playing at home, it's a different kind of energy than playing somewhere else."
The four teams in the NCAA regional will play Friday thru Sunday, and Monday if necessary at Illinois Field. Unlike regular season games, there’s an admission charge to tournament baseball games. Ticket information is at FightingIllini.com.