Will NCAA tournament baseball visit Champaign? That’s the question staff writer SCOTT RICHEY tries to answer before the Illini hit the road for a three-game series starting Thursday at Michigan State:
STAYING ON TASK
That Illinois — with its 34-16 record, No. 21 RPI and 11-5 mark against top 50 teams — is at least in the picture when it comes to hosting an NCAA regional isn’t exactly a secret. "They’re aware," Illini coach Dan Hartleb said Tuesday about his team. "They know. With social media, everything is public. My job is to keep them focused on the moment and not the future."
MORE TO DO
These Illini haven’t won a Big Ten title — although a share is still on the table this weekend. They haven’t reached an NCAA tournament either. "What was the identity of this group going to be?" Hartleb said was how he challenged his team. "We’re going to win with moving runners and being solid defensively and pitching wise. It had to be a team concept or we would struggle."
Illinois was one of the first four teams out of last year’s tournament. A "slow death" is how now senior outfielder Jack Yalowitz described watching the selection show. "Just to get in would be great," Yalowitz said. "To host is awesome, and to be able to play in front of our fans is really cool. We’re just playing to win right now. The more we win, the better chance we have to host."
Temporary changes to Illinois Field — primarily more seating — were necessary in 2015 to host the regional and super-regional rounds. The same would be necessary this year if the Illini were to host again. "Our adminstration and support staff have done a great job of at least planning," Hartleb said. "They’ll make sure we’re in a position to at least be considered for a bid."