CHAMPAIGN — The scholarship situation for Illinois men’s basketball is still sorting itself out and Bret Bielema hasn’t publicly announced his starting quarterback yet.
But no need to despair Illini fans. Those scenarios are months away from affecting the actual games inside Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center.
Plus, spring is in the air.
For a few days at least in Champaign-Urbana before it starts to feel like summer later this week.
And two Illinois sports who have constantly battled the elements for the past three months are now entering the stretch run of their respective seasons. With both the Illini baseball and Illini softball teams needing to pick up wins. At a frequent clip
Or else their season won’t last much longer.
Dan Hartleb’s baseball team swept nonconference foe Miami (Ohio) this past weekend — no offense to the RedHawks out of the Mid-American Conference, but this is what Big Ten teams with aspirations of playing in the NCAA tournament on an annual basis have to do — in three games where the Illini combined quality pitching with timely hitting.
Cole Kirschsieper and Riley Gowens started and both threw seven innings during Saturday’s doubleheader, resulting in a 2-0 win and a 5-1 victory, and then Ryan Kutt pitched 5 1/3 innings of effective relief on Sunday during the Illini’s 6-2 win. Exactly what you need out of pitchers at this juncture in the season.
Now, the key is for Illinois (26-19, 12-6 Big Ten) to have the same type of effect when struggling Nebraska (19-27, 7-11) visits this weekend for a three-game series and when the Illini end the regular season May 19-21 at so-so Penn State (23-21, 10-8).
Who’s to say the four-game win streak the Illini are on doesn’t turn into a 10-game win streak by the time the eight-team, double-elimination Big Ten tournament arrives May 25 at Charles Schwab Field in downtown Omaha, Neb., and the Illini’s NCAA tournament bubble chances possibly improve.
The Illinois softball team will want to avoid a repeat of what transpired this past weekend when Tyra Perry’s team opens its stay at the Big Ten tournament later this week. The Illini (34-19, 15-7) lost two out of three against Penn State (31-21, 13-10), getting shut out by identical 2-0 scores during the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader and then again on Sunday in the series finale at Eichelberger Field.
Illinois is the third seed at the 12-team, single-elimination Big Ten tournament that runs Wednesday through Saturday at Secchia Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. The Illini received a bye into the quarterfinals based on their solid regular season and await either 11th-seeded Purdue (24-30) or sixth-seeded Ohio State (33-14) at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. Illinois didn’t play Ohio State in the regular season and split its only two games against Purdue in late March during frigid weather.
Illinois isn’t the biggest home-run hitting team (third baseman Delaney Rummell has a team-high 10) but still has the second-best batting average (.308) in the Big Ten. The pitching of Sydney Sickels and Tori McQueen has sparked the Illini at various points this season, and they’re not to blame for losing two straight against Penn State. If Illinois wants to try and win its first Big Ten tournament title with three wins in three days, the offense will need to pick up its production.
Or else the Illini will find themselves nervously awaiting the NCAA tournament selection show when it airs at 6 p.m. this Sunday on ESPN2.
On the call
Good to see BTN broadcast all 11 games of the Big Ten softball tournament later this week. Even better to see WDWS broadcaster Scott Beatty making the trip to East Lansing.
He’ll be in the booth to call Thursday’s first pitch, with plans to broadcast the rest of the Illini’s games if they keep advancing. Beatty normally handles play-by-play coverage of Illinois baseball games, but Voice of the Illini Brian Barnhart is set to pinch-hit for Beatty on Friday and Saturday when the Illini host Nebraska.
Speaking of sports radio coverage on the airwaves of WDWS 1400-AM and 93.9-FM, the first of 12 Kiwanis C-U Little League baseball games will air at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Dodds takes on Joseph Kuhn’s at Robeson Park, with Dave Leake and Alli Adams on the call. Here’s the rest of the Little League regular-season games WDWS is planning on covering in May and June, with a 6 p.m. first pitch set for all of these games: Mack’s Recycling vs. USI (May 18), Libman vs. Black Dog (May 23), First Federal vs. Plumbers (June 6), Campus Ink vs. Bacon (June 8), Wampler vs. Clay Dooley (June 13) and First Federal vs. Broeren Russo (June 15). The station will also cover the Jr. Little League Championship set for 6 p.m. on June 3 at St. Matthew’s, the two semifinal games of the Suited League set for 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 20 and the Suited League’s third-place game (6 p.m.) and championship game (8 p.m.) on June 22.
Run Reggie, run
Reggie Corbin had visions of playing in the NFL after his four seasons at Illinois. But the running back wasn’t selected in the 2020 draft and who knows how much the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic played a factor in hindering the 5-foot-10, 200-pound native of Upper Marlboro, Md., from catching on with an NFL team.
But the 26-year-old hasn’t stopped his pro football pursuit. Now playing with the Michigan Panthers in the rebooted USFL, Corbin had a game to remember this past Friday night, rushing for 152 yards on 12 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run that showed off a burst many Illini fans saw from 2016-19 that featured 2,361 career rushing yards at Illinois. Michigan lost 26-25 to the Philadelphia Stars, but Corbin put his name out there again with his performance.
Corbin now sits third in the fledgling spring league with 308 rushing yards on 41 carries, with his 7.5 yards per carry leading the league.
The Panthers are only 1-3, but if Corbin can produce a few more runs like he did this past Friday night, then maybe an NFL team takes notice and gives him an opportunity. That’s all Corbin, and any other player in the eight-team league that is playing all of its games in Birmingham, Ala., in front of sparse crowds, wants to happen.
Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at email@example.com.