Baseball's postseason bid slipping away

Baseball's postseason bid slipping away

CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois baseball team has nine lives left.

If the defending Big Ten champions want to return to the postseason, there are nine chances to move up the conference standings.

After Sunday’s 14-6 blowout loss to league-leading Minnesota, the Illini sit ninth in the conference.

At 7-8 in league play (21-19 overall), Illinois is one game behind Ohio State for the final berth in the Big Ten tournament, which is scheduled for late May in Omaha, Neb.

“I thought the first two games (against Minnesota), we competed very well,” Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said. “(Sunday) got away from us. Really disappointed with some things (Sunday). There’s days I think we take a step forward, then there’s some days where we’re mediocre. That’s more mental than physical (mistakes).”

“We’ve got some good physical pieces, it’s just guys have to grow mentally and they have to stay focused all the time,” Hartleb added.

Illinois’ three remaining Big Ten series are against teams ahead of the Illini, starting with this weekend’s trip to College Park, Md. After that, the Illini travel to Indiana before finishing up the home season against Michigan.

The Terrapins, Hoosiers and Wolverines are fifth, second and third in the Big Ten. For now.

“We need to win every series,” Illinois catcher Jason Goldstein said. “To  this point, we’ve been in every series. We’ve won some. We’ve lost some. It’s a good opportunity for us to get some quality wins against good opponents and get some confidence going into the tournament.”

The Illini have the talent, Goldstein said.

“We haven’t played a team this year that we thought we couldn’t beat,” he said.

Goldstein is a senior on a team loaded with freshmen. Sixteen first-year students are on the roster.

“At this point, the younger  guys are no longer younger guys,” Goldstein said. “They all have 120, 130 at-bats, and the pitchers have all seen innings. Everyone on this team has tasted success this year.”

One of those who tasted success Sunday was freshman outfielder Doran Turchin. He had two hits, including a home run in the ninth inning. He drove in three runs.

“It was good to finish on a high note,” said Turchin, who has four homers this season. “I wish we would have gotten the win.”

During the upcoming games, Hartleb won’t be paying attention to the out-of-town scoreboard.

“I don’t care what everybody else does,” Hartleb said. “We need to take care of ourselves. If we go out and take care of ourselves, that’s the only thing we can control.

“I’m concerned about our games and winning those games. Whatever else happens, happens.”

That two of the remaining Big Ten series are on the road doesn’t bother the Illini.

“In college baseball, you can talk about home-field advantage,” Goldstein said. “We’ve never been to a park where we’ve been intimidated by anything going on there.”

Of course, Hartleb would rather be at home, but that’s not the way the schedule has fallen.

“If you want to play at the championship level, you have to win on the road as well,” Hartleb said. “It’s a stretch for us that is going to toughen our guys up.”

This year’s Minnesota team (27-13, 11-3 Big Ten) is playing a lot like the 2015 Illini. On a smaller scale. John Anderson has a veteran-filled roster.

“They are an older club and very confident,” Hartleb said. “They did a very good job taking advantage of mistakes, which we were able to do a year ago.

“Again, that comes to mentality. If you have that mentality and killer instinct on the field, you get your job done on a regular basis.”


Asmussen’s analysis
At the plate

After being held down in Friday’s doubleheader split, the Gophers showed why they have one of the top offenses in college baseball. Minnesota pounded out 17 hits, including three home runs. And the blasts were not cheap on an overcast day at Illinois Field.

On the mound
Minnesota starter Toby Anderson needed just 70 pitches to get through five innings. He pitched to contact (no strikeouts) to improve to 6-0 this season.

In the field
The Illini defense let the team down, committing three errors that led to a pair of unearned runs. In the first two games of the series, the Illini had only one error.

On deck
A busy week. The Illini travel to Sauget on Tuesday to play Missouri. The lone home game of the week is Wednesday against Southern Illinois. The team returns to Big Ten play on Friday at Maryland.