Saluki freshmen proving their worth

Saluki freshmen proving their worth

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

The freshmen on the 2015 SIU baseball team faced a baptism by fire out of necessity.

This year, coach Ken Henderson has freshmen he can rely on, but not because he has to.

Third baseman Jared Schmidt and reliever Seth Hackett have proven themselves to be reliable options in their first collegiate seasons.

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Schmidt is batting .250 with one home run and eight RBIs and has started 14 of the Salukis’ last 16 games.

“He’s got a lot of tools, and as a position player, it starts with that,” Henderson said. “He’s a big, strong kid. He doesn’t look like a freshman out there. He has some range, arm strength and bat speed. If you’ve got those, you’ve just got to develop. He’s made great strides.” 

Those strides allowed Schmidt to displace junior Ryan Sabo as the regular third baseman.

Sabo, who led the team with a .292 batting average last season, has scuffled at the plate, batting .188 with one homer and four RBIs. 

“Yeah, it’s tough, but honestly, all I want to do is win,” Sabo said. “And if Jared’s going to give us the best opportunity to win, and Coach Hendu feels that way, I’m behind him 100 percent.”

Schmidt said Sabo has been “like a big brother” to him and helped him work through some of his struggles in his freshman season. 

In 22 games, Schmidt has made a team-high eight errors, while Sabo has made six in 27 games. Henderson said although Sabo is struggling offensively, he is still the option when the Salukis need defense more than offense on a particular day.

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Hackett has a 4.22 ERA in a team-high 17 appearances, most of them coming with a lead late in games. He and redshirt freshman Austin Covers have provided something the 2015 squad lacked — left-handed relief. 

“That’s something we look for, and we were hoping that one of those guys could take that role,” pitching coach P.J. Finigan said. “A lot of times in the middle of the order there’s big left-handed bats, so having a guy late in games who can match up against the middle of someone’s order is huge.”

Covers, who has a 1.42 ERA since returning from Tommy John surgery, pitched SIU’s lone inning of relief by a lefty in 2015.

Both Finigan and Henderson noted Hackett’s command as a factor in his success — he leads all Saluki relievers with a 2.43:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

“He throws a lot of strikes, and his changeup is something you don’t see very often,” Finigan said. “It’s extremely slow compared to his fastball, and he pitches backwards off of it, and it makes his fastball that much more effective. He’s continued to get better every day.”

Henderson said Hackett and Schmidt have earned the playing time they have gotten this year because of their in-game performance.

“A lot of guys can do it in practice, but when you cross the white lines for real, it disappears,” Henderson said. “It happens a lot with hitters, we call them ‘5 o’clock hitters.’ Everything changes in games. I think you earn opportunities through practice, and greater opportunities through proving you can do it in the game.”

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307

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