Indiana Daily Student

IU baseball faces crucial conference series against Illinois

<p>Junior pitcher Jonathan Stiever pitches the ball against the Butler Bulldogs on March 30 at Bart Kaufman Field. Stiever was drafted by the Chicago White Sox on June 4.</p>

Junior pitcher Jonathan Stiever pitches the ball against the Butler Bulldogs on March 30 at Bart Kaufman Field. Stiever was drafted by the Chicago White Sox on June 4.

As IU baseball prepares for a conference-heavy end to its regular season schedule, the team will have to work its way through setbacks on- and off-field.

IU enters this weekend’s three-game series at Bart Kaufman Field against Illinois on a three-game losing streak, its longest losing stretch of the season. 

While all three losses came to Big Ten foes in Ohio State and Purdue, only the dropped games to Ohio State counted against IU in the conference standings.

“It feels like the losses linger around, so we’re just trying to drop that bad feel,” IU Coach Chris Lemonis said.  

As such, the series against the Fighting Illini will significantly impact the conference outlook with 12 conference games to go until the Big Ten Tournament. 

Illinois boasts a 24-12 overall record and a 9-3 conference mark, although it hasn’t faced a team higher than eighth in the conference standings. 

It is still unclear whether IU will be able to use two of its best players, junior pitcher Pauly Milto and junior infielder Luke Miller, in the crucial series. 

Lemonis said Milto, who is dealing with arm soreness but no structural damage, will throw a bullpen session Friday to determine his availability for the weekend. He also said Miller was seeing a doctor Thursday with regard to a foot injury he sustained earlier this season. 

Milto’s absence leaves a notable hole in the IU weekend rotation. Junior Jonathan Stiever has remained IU’s effective Friday night starter, but without Milto, Lemonis said he would look to older guys on the team with weekend starting experience for the second and third games against Illinois.

Whoever IU puts on the mound this weekend will have to contend with the Big Ten’s leading hitter, junior Bren Spillane.

Spillane brings a .444 batting average and 16 home runs, both conference-best marks, into the series. Lemonis said he recruited Spillane while serving as an assistant coach at Louisville, and IU will try to be aggressive when pitching to Spillane, while also trying to force other Illinois players to beat them.

This series kicks off a 14-game stretch to close the season for IU in which the Hoosiers will play 12 conference games against four different Big Ten opponents.

“We’re not far from playing good baseball,” Lemonis said. “The last three games we’ve given away some freebies, which are not characteristic of us, on the pitching mound and defensively. We don’t feel like we’re far away, we just gotta get that good feeling back.”  

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