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Pauly Milto and the Hoosiers head to Illinois for a trio of games

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IU rides a seven-series winning streak into Urbana-Champaign, but the Illini are one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten

Milto, IU’s Friday starter, has lost three of his last four Big Ten starts. The Hoosiers will need to get the ball rolling early this weekend if they want to win the series.
Auston Matricardi

Who

Indiana Hoosiers (30-14, 11-4 B1G) vs Illinois Fighting Illini (29-15, 8-7 B1G)

Where

Illinois Field, Champaign, Illinois

When

Friday, May 3, 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 4, 4 p.m.

Sunday, May 5, 2 p.m.

Probable Starters

RHP Pauly Milto (6-4, 2.90 ERA) vs LHP Andy Fisher (5-1, 2.98 ERA)

RHP Tanner Gordon (4-3, 3.36 ERA) vs RHP Ty Weber (3-1, 2.85 ERA)

LHP Andrew Saalfrank (6-1, 2.31 ERA) vs RHP Cyrillo Watson (4-1, 3.38 ERA)

Watch | Listen | Live Stats | @IndianaBase | @IlliniBaseball

Preview

After surviving an encounter with Minnesota at Bart Kaufman Field last weekend IU will try to keep its seven-series winning streak alive on the road against Illinois.

Both teams come into the three-game set highly regarded. The Hoosiers are ranked 19th nationally and currently sit 29th in RPI while Illinois comes in at 21st in RPI. The Illini were ranked early in the season and played well enough to earn wins over Coastal Carolina and Wake Forest in their nonconference slate, but got off to a rocky start in the Big Ten. Illinois currently sits in fifth place in the conference because of early series losses to Iowa and Maryland, but the Illini have rebounded well. Over the last three weekends they’ve taken series wins over Minnesota, Penn State, and Nebraska to put themselves back in the NCAA Tournament discussion and if they can take a pair of games against IU they could be in position to be a possible Big Ten title dark horse with an easy schedule remaining to close the season.

Illinois lost its best player from a season ago, Bren Spillane, who was one of the best players in the nation. He went pro following his strong junior season, but the Illini still have some star power.

Outfielder Zac Taylor has swung it with the best of them this season. He’s hitting .368 coming into the weekend with seven homers and 22 runs batted in to boot. Michael Massey has also been an important contributor for Illinois at the keystone. The Illinois native has paired the defense that won him a Gold Glove a year ago with a .331 batting average as well as four home runs and 23 RBI.

On the hill, Garret Acton has been lights out for the Illini coming out of the pen. The right-handed reliever broke the program’s single-season saves record by recording his 15th of the season on Tuesday against Indiana State. That mark leads the Big Ten and is the second-highest in the nation. He’s also posted a 1.82 earned run average and struck out 27 hitters in just under 25 innings.

Andy Fisher, the Illini ace, has been excellent as well this season. His ERA sits at 2.98 which isn’t the best mark on the team, but he’s been a strikeout machine. He’s mowed down 70 hitters so far this season which isn’t quite on the level of Dante Biasi (the Big Ten leader has 91), but it’s in the same ballpark as guys like Max Meyer, Andrew Saalfrank, and Tanner Gordon. That could be an issue for the Hoosiers because they’ve struggled against arms like that all season. Two prime examples are their performances against the aforementioned Biasi and Meyer.

If the Hoosiers want to win this series they just need to use the same formula that they’ve used for the last few months—strong starting pitching and high-level offensive production. As of late IU has hit fewer home runs and manufactured a larger part of its offense through drawing walks and stringing together solid base hits so that’s something to take into consideration and could actually benefit the Hoosiers as offense like that seems to travel better.

A series win in Urbana-Champaign this weekend would set up IU nicely for a chance to win the Big Ten title. If they can take two of three from the Illini or even sweep this series, which shouldn’t be expected but would certainly would be welcomed by Hoosier fans, it would allow them to keep pace or possibly retake the conference lead from the Michigan Wolverines, who travel to Maryland this weekend. That would put IU in a great spot with just six Big Ten games remaining in the season, three against Michigan on the road and three against rutger in Bloomington.