OXFORD, Miss. — Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb told the media following practice Thursday at Swayze Filed in Oxford, Miss., that junior Ty Weber will take the mound for the No. 2 seed Illini when they face No. 3 Clemson in the Oxford Regional.
Weber is the Illini’s No. 2 weekend pitcher and comes into Friday’s 4 p.m., game with a 4-2 record in 15 appearances. He has a 2.97 ERA and is allowing opponents to hit just .212.
“He is big, tall right hander that pounds the zone with three pitches,” Hartleb said. “He is very competitive and has a good downward angle. He is a guy that when he was a freshman, we threw him on Friday nights when we were really young. He is our No. 2 as a junior. He has just done a great job and I feel really confident when he goes to the mound.”
With Weber pitching, it means Illinois (36-19) is saving its ace, Andy Fisher, for Game 2 against either host Ole Miss or No. 4 seed Jacksonville State.
Clemson (34-24) is doing the same with Mat Clark, who head coach Monte Lee said will start in Game 2. Lefty Jacob Hennessy will toe the rubber for the Tigers against Illinois in Game 1.
“When you get into these types of tournaments, you have to get into all the of stats,” Hartleb said. “You have to look at what the matchups are. We felt like this was a good matchup against Clemson. We are luckily that we have two or three pitchers that we feel like we can throw at any time.”
The Illini’s strength is its pitching. As a team, it has a 3.66 ERA, one of the best in the Big Ten. Fisher is 7-1 with a 2.57 ERA, while third starter Cyrillo Watson is 5-2 with a 3.65 ERA.
Illinois bullpen is one of the best in the country, led by closer Garrett Action which has a 2.23 ERA in 29 appearances to go with a nation-best 19 saves. Illini pitching has allowed just 31 home runs all year. Weber has allowed just three and Action just two.
In case you are wondering, Clemson has 79 home runs this season, tied for 11th in the country. Maryland led the Big Ten in home runs with 67, tied for 27th nationally.
“We just have to compete in the box. That is what we do best,” Clemson catcher Kyle Wilkie said. “We have faced good pitching all year in our conference, in the ACC. So, I think it is going to be the same game. They have good pitchers, but everybody we have played this year has good pitchers, so we are going to go out and do our best.”
With the success Illinois has had with its bullpen and Garrett, the Tigers will need to do their best to get after Weber early.
“It is very important. We need to find a way to score runs,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “We need to be on the attack. Their starter is a strike thrower. They play good defense behind him and he does not give up a bunch of hits. He does not have a bunch of strikeouts.
“So, he is a guy that is going to force you to put the ball in play. He has a lot of sink on his fastball. He is just going to fill up the strike zone. We have to find a way to hit the ball on the barrel and hit where they ain’t.”