In the backdrop of the massive Sears tower building in Chicago sits Curtis Granderson stadium, the home of the Illinois Chicago Flames.
It was here just a few days ago that the Flames earned their birth to the NCAA tournament by winning their 5th Horizon League Championship. Back in 2003, Coach Mike Dee took the program to their first NCAA tournament, and they've been to three more since. This trip to the Hattiesburg regional will be their first trip to a regional since 2008.
Illinois-Chicago (35-19), won the horizon league regular season championship too with a 22-8 record and earned the number one seed. Make no mistake about it, the Flames had their tremendous season because of one of the best pitching staffs in the nation.
Conference pitcher of the year Jake Dahlberg (who the Eagles will almost certainly face Friday), was 10-2 with a 2.09 ERA and 4 shut-outs in 15 appearances. The tall lefty mixes pitches well and throws it hard enough to throw it by you. He has now won conference player of the year two years in a row.
Dahlberg joins a very deep staff for the Flames, with Reid Birlingmair also having an outstanding season going 7-4 with a 2.95 ERA. Their number three starter was Jack Andersen (5-2, 3.30 ERA). They also had the Horizon conference relief pitcher of the year in Alex Pedilla (10 saves with a 0.49 ERA).
Similar to Southern Miss and conference awards, UIC cleaned up. In addition to the pitchers of the year, they also had the overall conference player of the year in Catcher Rob Calabrese (.357, 7 HR's 48 RBI's). Two other position players hit over .300 (David Cronin .320 and Cody Bohanek, SS, .302)
Illinois Chicago had a notable win this year when they shut out Georgia Tech 1-0 on April 28th, giving them their 30th win of the season. They also took two of three from Vandy early in the year. They also were 2-0 against Northwestern.
Head Coach Mike Dee has had remarkable success with the program, winning over 30 games 10 times in his coaching career. He was also named Horizon Coach of the year this year.
For what it's worth, UIC was 26-5 at home this year and 13-10 away from Granderson stadium.