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Illinois will head into the 2020 Frisco Classic looking to find the groove it established a season ago when the Fighting Illini went 36-21 en route to the NCAA Tournament.
The Illini are 3-3, but head south to the Lone Star State having put together back-to-back impressive wins over Coastal Carolina and West Virginia, respectively. That there was no panic in the dugout after dropping three of its first four is a testament to the man in charge: head coach Dan Hartleb.
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Hartleb was named Big Ten Coach of the Decade by D1Baseball — a title well-deserved by the man who has been with this program for 30 years, including 15 as a head coach who counts over 400 career wins.
Time after time, he’s seen his athletes move on to professional ball. In the 2019 MLB Draft, seven guys heard their names called. Hartleb has been a huge motivating factor behind the rejuvenation and enhancement of the Illinois baseball program.
Pitching coach Mark Allen was hired after coming an array of experiences from various college and professional levels. And, while this rotation will feel the loss of starters Andy Fisher and Cyrillo Watson, Allen should help bring guys along to step into that void.
Senior Ty Weber, who enters the weekend with victories over Milwaukee and Coastal, will be looked to as a leader from the mound this year. Freshman Cole Kirschsieper picked up his first career win against West Virginia.
The Illini continue to work in the direction of better results at the plate the season, led by Brandon Comia, who has put up some consistent numbers with seven hits since Opening Day. The roster has also gets a boost from transfers Taylor Jackson, Nathan Aide and Alex Steinbach.
With a couple of different combinations and changes in the lineup, it looks like Hartleb and his staff are still trying to find what works best on the field. Some spots are pretty cemented, though with Jackson in center, Comia on short, Brody Harding on second, and Jacob Campbell catching.
Make no mistake, though, when Illinois adjusts to its new faces and settles into the season, this team will be a strong in Big Ten play.
Hartleb’s bunch will face its biggest test of the season to date, with No. 8 UCLA, No. 17 Texas A&M and Baseball America’s 23rd ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. All of the action will stream LIVE on FloBaseball and the FloSports app.