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Illinois returns to NCAA baseball tournament for first time in 5 seasons

Illinois returns to NCAA baseball tournament for first time in 5 seasons originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

For the first time since 2019, Illinois is participating in the NCAA men’s baseball tournament, as the Illini secured a spot in the Lexington regional.

The Illini, who won the regular season crown in the Big Ten this season, will take on the Indiana State Sycamores in their opening game on Friday after the brackets were revealed.

Kentucky, the No. 2 overall seed in the country, will take on Southern Mississippi in the other game.

NCAA baseball regionals are double-elimination, with the winners of each regional moving on to Super Regionals for a chance at a berth in the College World Series.

The Illini faced Indiana State twice during the regular season, dropping a 7-6 contest in Terre Haute in March before blasting the Sycamores 21-11 in an April showdown in Champaign.

Illinois captured the Big Ten regular season title with a sweep over Purdue in the final week of the regular season, but the Illini couldn’t replicate the feat in the conference tournament, losing to Penn State and then to Michigan to be bounced from the event.

The team got incredible hitting performances up and down their lineup, with Ryan Moerman leading the squad with 18 RBI’s. Coltin Quagliano led the team with 55 RBI’s, while Drake Westcott and Vytas Valincius each drove in 50 RBI’s for the club.

Jack Crowder had a 6-2 record in 15 starts for Illinois, but had a 5.25 ERA in 82.1 innings of work. Cooper Omans had a 3.73 ERA in 14 total appearances, including 12 starts, and struck out 56 batters in 60.1 innings.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Indiana got into the Knoxville regional, which will be hosted by Kentucky. The Hoosiers will take on Northern Kentucky in their opening round game.

Big Ten tournament champion Nebraska also got into the field via an automatic berth. They’ll head to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State in their regional opener, with Niagara and Florida squaring off in the other opening game.

Regionals will run through June 3, with super regionals taking place the following week. The 2024 College World Series will take place beginning on June 14 in Omaha.