clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Better Know a Super Regional Opponent: The #6 Illinois Illini

New, comments

Vanderbilt and Illinois are two of the hottest teams in NCAA baseball right now. They'll square off in a best-of-three Super Regional this weekend with a trip to the College World Series on the line.

The most relevant hit when your search USA Today images for "Illinois Baseball."
The most relevant hit when your search USA Today images for "Illinois Baseball."
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hottest Super Regionals in college baseball will take place in Champaign, IL when Vanderbilt and Illinois square off this weekend. The #6 Illini and #9 Commodores both rolled through the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they wrecked their opponents en route to a pair of Regional wins. Both teams swept through their tournament pods, compiling a 57-12 aggregate score along the way.

Now, these two streaking comets are barreling towards each other. The team who can keep their momentum moving forward will earn a spot in the College World Series.

For Vanderbilt, that means beating an Illinois team that won 27 straight games before stumbling in the Big Ten tournament. The Illini have been beastly at home thanks to dominant pitching performances and a balanced roster of talented batters. Vandy will counter with a veteran team chock full of championship experience, one of the best pitchers in the NCAA (Carson Fulmer), and a lineup that scored an average of 12 runs per game in the Nashville Regional.

Two very strong teams will face off in Champaign, and while each program probably deserves a spot in Omaha, only one can advance. Here's what the Illini have in store for Vanderbilt when the Super Regional kicks off on Saturday.

The Illinois Illini

Record: 50-8 (21-1 Big Ten)

NCAA RPI Rank9th (Vanderbilt is 13th)

All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 1-1. That's a loss in 1915 and a win in 2013. Recent history points in Vandy's favor, everyone!

Best Win: A 2-1 series win over #14 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Illini took a tense rubber match in game three against a Cowboy team that was in play for a National Seed until the final week of the season. The two teams headed into extra innings tied 2-2, but David Kerian delivered a game-winning two-run blast in the top of the 10th to mark Illinois's arrival among the NCAA's elite.

Worst Loss: A 0-2 defeat at the hands of #237 Southern Illinois. The Salukis hamstrung Illinois's bats to hand Kevin Duchene his only loss of 2015. Duchene allowed just one earned run and struck out nine batters in six innings but was out-dueled by SIU's Aaron Hauge.

Batter to Be Wary Of: David Kerian is some kind of pitch-destroying robot from the future, sent back in time to make Illinois Baseball relevant. He's batting .376, gets on base nearly 47 percent of the time, and has mashed 16 home runs this season. He's also savvy enough on the basepaths to have stolen nine bases in 12 attempts this year.

Kerian is getting even better as the postseason has worn on. He reached base nine times in three games in the Champaign Regional and added a pair of home runs to carry the Illini to baseball's sweet sixteen. With a patient approach at the plate and the power to change a game with one swing, Vanderbilt will have to be especially cautious when Illinois's first baseman comes to the plate.

Pitchers to Watch: Kevin Duchene is the Big Ten's answer to Carson Fulmer. Allow me to borrow a tremendous graphic from @VUHawkTalk for this one:

No matter what the outcome on Saturday night, Oakley is getting PAID. Duchene is a sniper on the mound who makes few mistakes and rarely issues walks. He doesn't have the filthy movement/speed combination that Fulmer does and will allow more balls in play, but he's been extremely difficult to hit solidly. He's given up only three home runs in 98.2 innings this season.

Key Stat: .926. That's Illinois's winning percentage at home. The Illini are 25-2 in the friendly confines of Illinois Field. However, only nine of those wins came against teams ranked in the RPI top 100. Vanderbilt will be the toughest opponent to take residence in the visitor's dugout in Champaign this season.