Home runs, change in approach powering first place Illinois baseball

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois baseball is hitting a lot of home runs and having a whole lot of fun. It’s combination that’s working well for the Illini, who have won 11 of their last 12 games.

“Things are going well, we’re scoring a lot of runs and having fun,” Illinois senior catcher Jacob Schroeder said. “That’s all you can ask for on the field.”

Scoring a lot of runs is putting it lightly. Illinois is averaging almost twice as many runs a game as last season, including a Big Ten high 61 home runs. Drake Westcott is tied for first in the league with 12, Ryan Moerman has 11 and Jacob Schroeder has 10. Both Wescott and Schroeder hit three a piece on Sunday against Northern Illinois.

“Obviously that’s a great stat but it’s not just been home runs, everybody’s been hitting up and down the lineup and obviously we’ve been putting up a ton of runs. It’s just important that we keep that going,” Westcott said.

Along the way, the players have brought the focus back to having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, something they say has been the key to their success.

“Earlier in the season we weren’t having a ton of fun,” Schroeder said. “We were trying to be business-like on the field and then we all got together and were like man we gotta have some more fun.”

And after a 5-10 start to the season, that mindset has been a gamechanger for Illinois’ recent success.

“I think we’re much better prepared,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I’d love to go back and play that early season again now that we’ve ironed things out and guys have started to play at a higher level. I think the good teams are the teams that get better each and every day throughout the year and this team’s definitely gotten better.”

Illinois hosts Northwestern for a three game series in Champaign starting Friday night at 6 p.m. at Illinois Field.

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