WHO: Iowa Hawkeyes (12-10, 0-3 B1G) vs Illinois Fighting Illini (17-5, 0-0 B1G))
- Friday, March 29th– 4:05 PM CT
- Saturday, March 30th – 2:05 PM CT
- Sunday, March 31st – 1:05 PM CT
After being swept in the Big Ten opener by Indiana, the Hawkeyes will look to turn things around against one of the top teams in the conference. Illinois was picked to finish 3rd in the Big Ten and have gotten off to a roaring start. Winners of 10 of their last 12 games, the Illini are currently 17-5 and ranked #25 in the country. This is the Big Ten opener for the Illini, who have swept all but one of their weekend series so far this season.
Before we break down Illinois, we should point out that although last weekend was bad, there was some good from the Iowa baseball team on Tuesday. The Hawkeyes played Bradley (12-7) and after some early struggles (shutout through the first 7 innings), the Hawkeyes found a way to win. The scoring came in the 8th inning when Iowa got four runs on two hits with a little help from a Bradley error and wild pitch. It wasn’t pretty, but with how things are currently going we will take what we can get.
Grant Leonard pitched the ninth for Iowa and got the save for the Hawkeyes, he is now 5/5 in save situations this season. Iowa starter Duncan Davitt only went 2.1 innings, giving up one run. Trace Hoffman pitched 1.1 innings, and Trenton Wallace threw 4.1 innings of shutout ball.
At the Plate
The good news for this weekend, the Illini don’t smash the ball out of the park nearly as often as Indiana did. The bad news is that they are still a very good hitting team, having seven guys hitting over .300 coming into the weekend. Michael Massey is a name that you will be hearing a lot in this series. He was named a Freshman All-American in 2017 and has done nothing but improve since. He is currently riding a 7-game hitting streak, has the sixth highest batting average in the Big Ten, and leads the Illini in hits, home runs, and walks.
Center Fielder Cam McDonald (NOT related to Iowa pitcher Cole McDonald) is currently tied for sixth in the Big Ten with 19 RBI.
The Illini will most likely be missing their center fielder Zac Taylor this weekend, which should make the Iowa pitching staff happy. Taylor has been injured for a few weeks but before going down he led the team in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs scored, and stolen bases.
Iowa starters will be the usual: McDonald, Baumann, and Judkins. McDonald and Judkins continue to keep Iowa in games even when the bats aren’t doing anything, which is all you can ask for. McDonald has gone at least six innings in three out of his last four starts, including a 7-inning, 11-strikeout game against Indiana. Judkins continues to be as reliable as they come, his 1.77 ERA is the fifth best in the Big Ten. In his last two starts he has gone 14 innings, allowed three earned runs, and struck out nine. Baumann has struggled his last two outings, allowing seven runs in only 6.2 innings.
On the Mound
Illinois will start Andy Fisher in game one of the series. Fisher is 3-1 with a 3.25 ERA in six appearances so far this season. In those six outings, he has thrown 36 innings, struck out 38, and allowed 13 earned runs. Game 2 will be started by junior Ty Weber. Weber is 1-0 with a 1.52 ERA, the third best ERA in the Big Ten. Illinois has not named a starter for Game 3, but it will most likely be Cyrillo Watson or Quinn Snarskis. Watson has a 2.76 ERA while Snarskis ERA is 9.58. I think I know who I would rather face…
If Iowa wants to have any chance this weekend they need to get their bats going. The Hawks only scored four runs in their series against Indiana and were shut out for seven innings against Bradley. Of the Hawkeyes hitters that have more than 50 at-bats this season, Austin Martin is the only one hitting over .300. Izaya Fullard will need to stay hot, he is 10 for his last 26 and has raised his batting average to .296.
Another key bat that will need to keep rolling if Iowa is going to turn things around is Ben Norman. Norman leads the team in RBI (14), is second on the team in runs scored (14), second in hits (24), and first in steals (6).
It will be interesting to see how much playing time Connor McCaffery gets this weekend. He started in the outfield vs Bradley but admitted last week that he had not gotten to take many live at-bats during practice due to basketball. Once he gets into the swing of things he should become an everyday starter in the outfield, which will be a big bonus for the offense.
Big Ten Standings as of 3/28/19
Let's all hope that this series is a lot more competitive than last weekend. We will post series updates in the comments, feel free to join in too.