For Illinois Fighting Illini sports fans that have been wondering when a team from Champaign will be relevant again, you need to start paying attention to what has been happening on the diamond at Illinois Field.
There has been some seriously good baseball being played there by a team that has gone virtually unnoticed. It's time to stop complaining about the football and basketball teams and tune in to watch this team, because these guys can play.
Illinois currently stands at 44-6-1 (20-1 in Big Ten) and as of Thursday is the Big Ten champion with its victory over Nebraska. The Illini are also ranked second in the nation per the collegiate baseball rankings. Their 44 victories are tied for the most in D-1 baseball (LSU) and are five shy of the school record of 49 set in 1982. They also have the fewest losses (6) and the best winning percentage (.880) in D-1 baseball.
Oh, and they just happen to be on a 25-game winning streak, which is the longest active streak in the country as well as the longest streak by any team in college baseball in 2015. If they can win the next two games this weekend against Nebraska, it will give them the longest winning streak ever by a Big Ten team (27), breaking a record which coincidentally was set by Nebraska in 1983.
If these numbers aren't enough to pique your interest, there's more.
Offensively Illinois has been a machine all season. As a team the Illini are hitting .299, which is second in the conference behind only Michigan, which is at .300. They lead the conference in slugging percentage (.441) and total bases (792) and are second in OBP (.381), runs scored (347), hits (538), RBI (319), and home runs (46).
And then there's the pitching and defense.
Illinois leads the Big Ten in wins (44), losses (6), ERA (2.49), runs allowed (159), earned runs allowed (130), walks allowed (107) and home runs allowed (18) and are second in hits allowed (409), opponent BA (.236) and saves (17).
Defensively they are fourth in the conference in errors (51) and fielding percentage (.975).
When you put all of this together you have a baseball team that has won 44 of 51 games and is worth your time to watch. For Illinois fans, forget about football and basketball right now, which shouldn't be all that difficult based on the recent lack of success for both of those programs.
For Chicago sports fans, forget about the Cubs and the White Sox for now as well. You have all summer to watch them play, and neither one of those teams is likely to duplicate the success of this Illinois team.
Instead, focus your attention on this team.
The Illini will play their final two regular-season games Friday night (6 p.m., BTN) and Saturday afternoon (2 p.m., BTN) against Nebraska and will be trying to finish the regular season on a 27-game win streak. That alone should be reason enough to watch.
The team will then move on to the Big Ten Tournament next week in Minneapolis, followed by what will hopefully be a deep run in the NCAA regional, super regional and possibly the College World Series.
If you're an Illini fan, this is the team to watch right now. Teams like this don't come around very often, but when they do, they deserve your attention.
All statistics provided by www.bigten.org.