Former Yankee hero Bucky Dent to speak at Hot Stove Banquet January 20th

One year after Goose Gossage spoke at the 2017 Illinois Baseball Hot Stove Banquet, another famous former Yankee will keynote at the annual banquet sponsored by the Dugout Club and the Illinois Baseball program.  On January 20, 2018, Bucky Dent will headline the event at the iHotel in Champaign.  

A Yankee for most of his career, Dent is most noted for his winning homerun in the tie-breaking game against the Boston Red Sox in 1978,

The Hot Stove Banquet is the seen as the kickoff event of the Illini baseball season.  Soon after, players begin practice and it won’t be long before the season starts with Lamar on February 16th. 

Aside from Dent’s keynote speech, the Hot Stove Banquet includes food, fun and plenty of tradition.  No doubt, we will hear from Coach Hartleb who will give us his overview of the team and its mission.  There will be a silent auction and if we’re lucky, Mike Namoff will conduct an energetic live auction for a worthy cause. 

I for one, am looking forward to it! 

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Illinois baseball rally against Sycamores falls short, 13-10

Tyler Engel gets a helmet bump from Zac Taylor after hitting a homer on Saturday


It was hot day on Saturday with the temp reaching into the 90s.  Unfortunately, the Indiana State Sycamores offense got hot early and the Illini couldn’t recover.  The Illini were hurt by a Sycamore rally of eight runs in the second inning. 

Illinois still made it an interesting game, however.  By the top of the fifth inning, Illinois had answered back with six runs thanks in part to homers by Bren Spillane and Tyler Engel. 

After a four-run 9th inning, the regulation final score was 13-10 which was a whole lot closer than than how the contest started.  Hard-hitting Indiana State added five more runs after three bonus innings (to give the players extra live practice, I assume). 

Engel’s homer gives him two in as many games in this new fall season. He was a big part of Illini’s win over UI-Springfield in the first game of season.  With last year’s secondbaseman Michael Massey returning in November and Ben Troike most likely slated at shortstop, Tyler is fighting for a position and his determination is showing.   

Houston transfer Zac Taylor has been impressive in his first two games as an Illini.  So far, he is 5 for 10 as the leadoff man.  He’s been part of both games as he’s scored four runs and driven in four.  In Saturday’s game against Indiana State, Zac’s a speedy guy, too.  In the two games, he’s stolen five bases. 


Zack Jones from Downers Grove takes a turn on mound


On the pitching side of things, it’s a little hard to evaluate things.  On the one hand, we literally saw almost every pitcher the Illini have to offer in each game.  Yes, because of the extended 12-inning game, Indiana State saw twelve Illini pitchers. 

Here is the boxscore for Saturday courtesy of @IlliniBaseball:

Sean Leland took the brunt of the punishment on Saturday but while he did give up eight runs, it was on just two hits. 

It was great as an Illini fan to see all of our hurlers (unfortunately, starter Doug Hayes is still not ready).  They all went one inning or less (with the only exception of Andy Fisher who pitched two scoreless frames and struck out three batters), It was Scout’s Day and a good day for Coach Hartleb to tout his pitchers as well as his hitters. 

More photos from Saturday’s game at the Illinois Baseball Report photo gallery.  

Illinois baseball scheduled another live game on Wednesday.  At 6pm, Illinois will host the Millikin Big Blue at Illinois Field.  It will be a homecoming for Big Blue’s Zack Owens who graduated from Champaign Centennial so we may see a fair amount of fans in the visitors’ section. 

See you at the ballpark!

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Fall season agrees with Illinois baseball: Illini defeat UIS 13-6

Last Saturday was our first official glance at the Illinois baseball team as they entered the short exhibition fall season.  They hosted sister campus team of University of Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars. 

If this was any indication, the new Illini know how to score.  In the official nine inning game, the Fighting Illini outscored the Prairie Stars 13-6 thanks to big games by Tyler Engel and Zac Taylor (above).  Engel, who backed up Ben Troike at shortstop last year, went 3 for 4 with a double and a homer and drove in three runs while playing second base.  Leadoff man Taylor drove home three runs on three hits while scoring two of his own. 

David Craan got things going in the second with a two-run triple.  That’s him above safely stealing second base.  Casey Dodge and Ben Troike both collected two hits and junior transfer Michael Michalak The game was tight for the first four and half innings. By then, it was 5-4 Illinois.  It was in the bottom of the fifth when Illinois erupted for seven runs. 

The game didn’t quite end there.  My friend Robin McElwee who is an excellent photographer told me that the game was extended to 14 innings (unfortunately, I had to leave early to photograph my daughter who was singing at a public function).  Robin took this photo for posterity…


Illinois scored 23 runs on 24 hits and defeated UIS 23-6 for the entire 14-inning game. 

Here’s another by Robin of Bren Splillane.  Both photos used with permission. 


Don’t forget, there is another game this weekend.  This Saturday, Illinois is hosting the Indiana State Sycamores at 12:15pm.  Starting September 27, the annual intrasquad Orange and Blue World Series begins. 

See you at the ballpark!


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2018 baseball schedule features some new opponents, old rivalries

This week, Illinois Baseball has announced its 2018 schedule.  If you take a look at the schedule on, you’ll notice something a little different in the schedule layout.  The interns at the baseball program have added a quick note about each game, 

The season starts on February 16 against Lamar.  The next weekend, the Illini will be tested against 2016 National Champion Coastal Carolina.  The home opener will be against Milwaukee on March 14.  The Big Ten season begins against Northwestern on March 23rd and the Big Ten home opener occurs on March 30 when Illinois hosts Iowa for three games. 

Which Big Ten teams will Illinois play in conference season? 

  • Northwestern Wildcats (A)
  • Iowa Hawkeyes (H)
  • Maryland Terrapins (A)
  • Rutgers Scarlet Knights (H)
  • Indiana Hoosiers (A)
  • Ohio State Buckeyes (H)
  • Nebraska Cornhuskers (H)

Note: Illinois will play one game against Michigan State which will not count towards conference standings.

All told, the schedule includes a total of 51 games including six new opponents.  Illinois will face Texas Southern, Virginia Commonwealth, Arizona, Presbyterian, Cal State Northridge, Grand Canyon for the very first time. 

First things first though.  Illinois has scheduled two exhibition games this fall.  This Saturday, Illinois takes on Illinois-Springfield at Illinois Field at 11am.  On September 23, Illinois will host Indiana State at 12:15.  The games are free to all fans. 

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2018 Illinois baseball roster announced, check out the new guys!

This week, Illinois baseball announced their roster for the 2018 spring season

We’ll be seeing a fair amount of returning starters from last year’s young team.  That includes infielders Michael Massey and Ben Troike and outfielders Bren Spillane, Doran Turchin and Jack Yalowitz.  Mark Skonieczny is back behind the plate and last year’s DH, Casey Dodge is listed as C/IF. 

Last season’s young pitching staff got one year’s worth of experience and that can be so valuable as we head into 2018.  Starting pitchers coming back include (a hopefully healthy) Doug Hayes, Cyrillo Watson, Ty Weber, Quinten Sefcik and Ryan Thompson.  Illinois’ bullpen showed some brilliance in 2017.  With pitchers like Joey Gerber, Ryan Schmitt, and red-shirted Sean Leland coming back, the late innings won’t be as harrowing.  A comeback by Luke Shilling will be a big boost for the Illini. highlighted the new guys in the roster reveal.   There are a few to keep your eyes on. 

The new guys

RHP/1B Ryan Kutt is one I’ve been waiting for since he was recruited.  His credentials are pretty impressive and he had fellow Brother Rice Michael Massey to mentor him. 

Jeremiah Lebron is an incoming outfielder from Boilingbrook, IL.  He is a four time All-Conference Academic Team but also slugged .519 with 26 rbis. 

With the departure of nifty-fielding Trent Hammond, local boy Kelly Sarver may come handy.  He plays both catcher and third base.  Kelly is from Champaign Centennial and took All-Big 12 and All-region honors. 

OF/LHP Jimmy Burnette hails from St. Laurence and has started on varsity since his sophomore year.  He hit .321 with 34 rbis his junior year.  Last year, he was All-Catholic League second team. 

The one rookie who is not a freshman is Jeff Korte.  He is a transfer from Eastern Florida State College.  Behind the plate, he hit .349 as a sophomore. 

Michael Michalak hails from Des Moines Community College and tranfers as a junior.  A letter winner in baseball and football, Michael is a school record for receiving yards.  He was All-State in 2015 and two-time all-conference. 

A two-year letter winner, RHP Quinn Snarskis will add to Illinois’ pitching depth.  He was an All-Chicago Catholic League honoree.

Here is the full 2018 Illinois Baseball roster

You will get to see the team play for the very first time on September 16 as the short Fall season commences with a game against University of Illinois-Springfield.  

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Fall 2017 schedule includes two Illinois baseball matchups

Time was, the fall semester didn’t see much Illinois Baseball action outside of one intrasquad series.  Sure, they held daily practice out on Illinois Field which culminated with the annual Orange and Blue World Series but that was about it. 

Seems that things are changing. 

This fall, in addition to the usual baseball activities, Illinois fans will be treated to two games against other teams.  On September 16th, the Illini will take on the Prairie Stars of our sister campus University of Illinois-Springfield.  The next weekend on September 23rd, Illinois will host the Sycamores of Indiana State. 

The Orange and Blue World Series will commence the following Wednesday and finish that weekend. 

Here is the full Fall ‘17 schedule:

  • Saturday, September 16 – vs. Illinois-Springfield (11 a.m.)
  • Saturday, September 23 – vs. Indiana State (12:15 p.m.)
  • Wednesday, September 27 – Orange and Blue World Series
  • Friday, September 29 – Orange and Blue World Series
  • Saturday, September 30 – Orange and Blue World Series

All games are free to the public.  It’s the best show in town!  Get out and support the team! 

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Illinois trying to keep hope alive against Iowa

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Time to have some fun, boys!!

So this is it… the last series of the regular season.  Illinois baseball will host fifth-place Iowa Hawkeyes at Illinois Field for an early weekend series which begins on Thursday at 6pm. 

An 8th place finish is necessary to move on so Illinois’ current 11th place standing seems quite dire.  However with some good baseball and a little luck, there is a chance that the Illini can still eke out a tourney bid. works out all the magic with the numbers and scenarios in this article.  The first hurdle?  Illinois needs to win at least two games this weekend against Iowa (if you want a fun read, read’s Big Ten Baseball Tournament Tie-Breaker Procedures).


Stats of note

Fighting Illini weekend preview


Pitcher probables


  • Thursday  Ty Weber: 2-6, 5.16 ERA
  • Friday  Cyrillo Watson: 3-4, 5.92 ERA
  • Saturday  Matthew James 1-1, 5.15 ERA  

The starting three of Ty Weber, Cyrillo Watson and Matt James all had solid, if not perfect outings last weekend.  Unfortunately, Illinois’ young bullpen while performing admirably for most of the conference season, just ran out of gas.  

Watson did garner a victory in Game two last Friday and improved his record to 3-4. 

A quick summary of the weekend…


Illinois Field
Champaign, Illinois

Thu. May 18

6:00 pm CT

Fri. May 19

6:00 pm CT

Sat. May 20

1:00 pm CT


Iowa Hawkeyes



W-L: 32-18 B1G 13-8


 My take on the Hawkeyes:  As someone who grew up on the western border of Illinois, I have always seen the Hawkeyes as a bitter rival in Big Ten sports.  This year, their baseball team really produced results.  Not only do they have an overall 32-18 record but their 13-8 has already clinched a Big Ten tourney berth.  They even have a shot at the conference but as an Illini fan, I’m not even going to consider that. 

The big elephant in the room is Jake Adams who leads the Big Ten with a whopping 21 homeruns and 59 rbis. For a while there, he and Illini Pat McInerney were neck and neck in the HR race but Adams pulled away from the rest of the Big Ten.

Starter Nick Gallagher is having a light-out year too.  In 12 starts, he is 7-1 with a 2.33 ERA. 



Random Ramblings

2017 IllvsMarylandFri-217Hometown fans, this is your chance!  It’s the last series of the year to see the Illini in play at Illinois Field.  Get out to the ballpark! 

If you need more incentive other than good baseball, there will be plenty of promotions this weekend. lists them all here.  If you want swag, come out Thursday night.  It sounds like they are cleaning out their closets of their older memorabilia!! 

The famous Bleacher Bum BBQ will be on Friday night starting at 5pm.  Free BBQ for the first 500 fans!  Friday is also Lou Boudreau Night recognizing the 25th anniversary of the uniform number retirement of Illinois baseball’s most famous player.  While you are at the park this weekend, take the opportunity to read the plaque dedicate to Mr. Boudreau. 

Friday night’s events will conclude with fireworks. 

Saturday is Senior Day which will recognize the contributions of Illinois seniors Anthony Drago, Trent Hammond, Matt James, Zack Kolakowski, Pat McInerney and Grey Schultz who have all played an important part in the baseball program in the past four years.  Senior Day is always an emotion-filled moment each year and a great way to recognize these players that have given so much. 

See you at the ballpark!!

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Rutgers next up for Illini Baseball

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Jack Yalowitz hits at a .347 pace

After a critical series win against #24 Maryland last weekend, Illinois travels to New Brunswick, New Jersey to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.  Rutgers (17-28, 5-10 Big 10) currently inhabits twelfth place in the Big Ten two spots below Illinois. 

Illinois is on a 15-8 streak and has won three of their last four conference series.  With a series sweep this weekend, Illinois could attain a overall .500 record. 

There is still a very real possibility that we could see a Big Ten Tournament berth for the Orange and Blue. breaks down the scenarios and the numbers here in their Big Ten Baseball Standings Update

Make note of altered schedule this weekend.  Because of graduation Rutgers’ graduation ceremonies on Sunday, two games will be played on Friday and one on Saturday.  Game one on Friday will begin at 11am. 

Stats of note

  • Illinois ranks fifth in the nation in DP/game with 1.13
  • Jack Yalowitz  .347 (6th in Big Ten), 11 HR (4th), .619 SLG (3rd)
  • Pat Mcinerney  14 HR (2nd in Big Ten), .584 SLG (4th)

Fighting Illini weekend preview


Pitcher probables

2017 illvsmarylandsat-9942

  • Friday  Ty Weber: 2-6, 5.24 ERA
  • Saturday  Cyrillo Watson: 2-4, 5.59 ERA
  • Sunday  Matthew James 1-1, 5.04 ERA  

The coaching staff is sticking with what works.  Granted, Ty Weber had a rough outing last Friday but I’m convinced the talent is there.  It easy to forget that it’s a freshman we’ve been sending to the mound every weekend. 

As for Cyrillo Watson (above)and Matt James, they just need to build on their success.  Watson had the best game of his young career last Saturday.  Allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings, Watson earned that win against #24 Maryland. 

James pitched well too on Sunday giving up two runs in six innings.  The exciting walk-off win went to closer Joey Gerber who is now 2-0. 

A quick summary of the weekend…


Bainton Field
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Fri. May 12

11:00 am CT

Fri. May 12

2:30 pm CT

Sat. May 13

12:00 pm CT


Rutgers Scarlet Knights



W-L: 17-28 B1G 5-10


 My take on Rutgers:  The illini won’t admit it but they have to be thinking it.  Facing 17-28 Rutgers, this is the weekend to beef up the wins column. This is time to do it too as Rutgers is on a 1-5 stretch getting swept by Nebraska last weekend. 

No team is a sure thing though. Senior outfielder Mike Carter helps the offense with a .348 batting average and a team-leading 31 rbis.  Tom Marcinczyk leads the Scarlet Knights with seven homers. 

The Illini can hope to feast on Rutgers’ pitching.  They have the highest ERA in the Big Ten with a 6.15 mark. 



Random Ramblings

It’s hard to believe we’re looking at the same bullpen that we started with this season. The young arms are developing at a rapid pace.  That is so apparent even in this last weekend’s series.  For the three games. relievers gave up just one run and  five hits in ten innings.  Their performance was key in both Saturday’s and Sunday’s wins against a very tough Maryland team. 

The bullpen’s improvement has shown a marked difference too.  Eleven of Illinois last 14 wins have been decided by three runs or less.  I’m no Dan Hartleb but I know that a good bullpen matters in close games. 


2017 illvsmarylandsat-0034

One of those relievers, Ryan Schmitt, is featured in a Fighting Illini article highlighting all freshmen and their accomplishments.  Schmitt has racked up four wins and that is encroaching on the all-time Illini record list.  He needs one more victory to make the top ten. 

Other freshmen mentioned are Ty Weber who is already sixth in innings pitched, Michael Massey who needs one more homer to crack the top ten in homers and three more rbis to make that list.  Four frosh pitchers, Weber, Watson, Schmitt and Ryan Thompson all have chance at the top ten Illini in strikeouts too. 

The freshmen are getting some good experience this year and are steadily developing.  The future really bodes well for the Illini! 

Go Illini!!

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Illini baseball enter homestretch against #24 Maryland


Critical Massey: Trying for 15 games straight

Illinois baseball is returning home after a lengthy eight-game road trip to attempt a Big Ten comeback.  The Illini will be hosting first place Maryland (30-13, Big 10 13-5) this weekend at Illinois Field for three games. 

On a current 13-7 winning stretch, the Illini are hoping to qualify for a Big Ten Tournament berth with just three weekends left.  At 5-10 in the Big Ten, they are now in 10th place in the conference.  They are eyeing Michigan State (7-8) who occupy the last tournament spot at 8th place. 

Freshman Michael Massey will be trying to extend his hitting streak to 15-games.  With another good weekend, he could win his third Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. 

Friday’s game begins at 6pm. 

Stats of note

  • Michael Massey 14 multi-hit games this year
  • Jack Yalowitz .101 total bases (2nd in Big Ten)

Fighting Illini weekend preview


Pitcher probables

  • Friday  Ty Weber: 2-5, 4.34 ERA
  • Saturday  Cyrillo Watson: 1-4, 6.35 ERA
  • Sunday  Matthew James 1-1, 5.35 ERA  

Matt James is coming off his first win last Sunday.  Both Ty Weber and Cyrillo Watson got no-decisions last weekend.  With his win in relief, Ryan Schmitt is now the unlikely team leader in victories with four. 

Zak Devermann has been called from the pen lately. He made three appearances in the past week and has thrown 2 2/3 perfect innings.   

A quick summary of the weekend…


Illinois Field
Champaign, Illinois

Fri. May 5

6:00 pm CT

Sat. May 6

3:00 pm CT

Sun. May 7

12:00 pm CT


Maryland Terrapins



W-L: 29-13 B1G 13-5


 My take on Maryland:  Maryland is the team going into the homestretch of the conference season.  With a 13-5 Big Ten record, they are the favorites to win the crown. 

The Terrapins rank third in ERA with a 3.67 mark and fifth in hitting with a .278 batting average.  Only one team has more homeruns than Maryland’s 43 in the Big Ten.  The good news is that it is Illinois with 45. 

While Maryland has done extremely well at home at 18-1, they have struggled on the road with a 7-10 record.  Illinois hopes that trend will continue. 



Random Ramblings

It feels like it’s been raining all week but as I write this on Thursday evening, it is starting to clear up.  With a little luck, Friday’s big game may have nice weather.  Despite that, some of the fun promotions planned for Friday are going to be postponed till Illinois’ series against Iowa on the weekend of May 18-20.  This includes the Bleacher Bum BBQ, Lou Boudreau Day and fireworks,


nwwildcatsfri 126

I had the pleasure of Lee Zerrusen’s company for lunch earlier this week.  Lee who pitched for the Illini from 2008-2011, was one of the nicest Illini players I’ve ever encountered.  That’s him mowing down the Northwestern Wildcats in 2010.  He now uses his people skills as the Coordinator of Student, Alumni, and Corporate Relations for the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois.  As two people who support the students and staff of the University, we enjoyed talking about University goings-on as well as the ins and outs of Illinois baseball. 

See you at the ballpark! 

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Streaking Massey giving Illini an edge, series win over Gophers


To think at the beginning of the season, I was unsure of Illinois’ situation at second base.  With the departure of Michael Hurwitz last year and no heir apparent, it seemed like a hole that needed filling. 

Well, Michael Massey has filled that hole admirably.  With six hits during Illinois’ double header against Minnesota, Massey extended his hitting streak to 13.  Not only that, he’s starting another kind of streak.  He was honored with the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award for the second week in a row.  With a 10 for 19 performance with four runs and three rbis, he has become the first Illini to win the award in successive weeks. 

The timing was perfect.  Massey’s big bat came in handy against the Golden Gophers on Saturday when the Illini swept the doubleheader giving the good guys the series win.  Combined, the Illini scored 23 runs on the day.

Michael Massey wasn’t the only Illini swinging a slick willow.  Saturday, Jack Yalowitz homered in both games.  He drove home eight runs combined going 5 for 11.  Bren Spillane hit a grand slam in Game 2 and had five rbis on the day. 

2017 illvsmsufrigame1-3566

Some Illinois hurlers had a good day on Saturday too.  In game 1, Cyrillo Watson spread out six hits over 4 2/3 innings for just one run.  Ryan Schmitt (above) got the win and if you can believe it, he is the team leader with a 4-1 record. 

It’s hard to believe but Matt James got his first win.  In game 2, he only game up one run in six frames.  The bullpen of Ryan Thompson, Zak Devermann, and Joey Gerber was this close to perfect giving up only one hit in 3 innings.  With a 14-run lead, Gerber doesn’t get a save, sorry. 

Next up


Illinois takes on rival Southern Illinois at Itchy Jones Field on Tuesday.  I hope the Illini players know the significance of that name.  Before Dan Hartleb, there was Coach Itch Jones (above) who eventually coach at Illinois and became one of the winningest coaches of all time.  You can still see him in attendance at Illinois baseball games. 

This weekend, Illinois entertains Maryland at Illinois Field for three games.

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