Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Slugging Salukis look to combine pitching depth with top-tier offense

Slugging+Salukis+look+to+combine+pitching+depth+with+top-tier+offense
Lylee Gibbs

While some people would be concerned by the lack of veterans on SIU’s baseball team, don’t count Lance Rhodes among them.

Rhodes, who is entering his fifth season as the head coach at SIU and recently had his contract extended through the 2027 season, is unbothered by the lack of familiarity.

“Every single year we’re going to lose good players. It’s our job to replace those good players that we’ve lost with more good players. And we feel like we’ve done that,” Rhodes said.

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One of the areas that Rhodes feels has been filled in well is the pitching staff. While SIU’s staff ranked around the middle of the Missouri Valley Conference in most measurable statistics a season ago, the staff is nearly unrecognizable, with 10 of the 17 pitchers new to the team this year.

“We really believe that top to bottom, we’ve got a chance to have some depth in there,” Rhodes said. “We’ve got a lot of intriguing arms that hopefully are going to make a big impact on the success of our season.”

Several pitchers have made especially strong impressions during offseason training. Matt Schark, a senior first baseman, is especially impressed by fellow senior Mike Hansell.

“Mike’s been amazing in the fall. He’s been on two 40-win teams here, and I expect him to be a leader with all of our staff. I’m expecting him to have a great year,” Schark said. 

Hansell, who missed last season due to an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery, is eager to come back and show what fans have been missing out on.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on the mound and proving what I can do out there,” Hansell said.

Hansell isn’t cutting himself any slack coming off of the injury either, setting high expectations for himself and his performance.

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“I expect the best. I expect to be the best pitcher I can be and help the team win any way possible,” Hansell said.

Aidan Foeller, a transfer student from Northeast Mississippi Community College, is another arm that the Salukis are collectively excited about. 

“That dude’s a premier arm,” Schark said. “He could be an All-American the way he pitches.”

Rhodes also cites newcomer Al Holguin’s success at previous stops as something to watch in the potential breakout candidate.

“[Holguin]’s done a lot of really good things at the division I level,” Rhodes said.

Pitchers aren’t the only people to be excited about; several hitters stood out during the offseason program and are poised to help the Salukis carry their dominant offense from last season into 2024.

“One guy that I think is flying under the radar is Jordan Bach,” Schark said. “He’s had a great fall, he probably led us in [batting] average. He can hit it anywhere on the field, pole to pole.

As a pitcher, Hansell may have a better understanding of who is going to have a good season at the plate, as he often throws to them. One player in particular has given Hansell headaches, which bodes well entering the season.

“Bennett Eltoft… for some reason, he does not miss the ball. Ever. It’s frustrating on the mound when the hitter doesn’t miss the ball,” Hansell said. 

Rhodes is hoping to see many breakouts from these players and others who haven’t yet had a light shined on their talents.

“A lot of these guys, they don’t have a name for themselves yet, but we’re hoping in the next several weeks that they’re known on the division one level as good division one players,” Rhodes said.

These soon-to-be recognizable names are being counted on to help do one thing in particular, something that Rhodes and the Salukis are constantly striving for: winning a conference title. 

“Every single season that we step foot out here, it’s to win our conference, conference regular season title, conference tournament title,” Rhodes said. “We need to break through and have the opportunity to compete in a regional.”

Rhodes is optimistic about the team’s chances to make it an NCAA regional.

“If we play really good baseball on a consistent basis, with the talent that we have, we have a chance to have a really special season,” Rhodes said.

While every game matters while pursuing these titles, some carry more weight or are emphasized more. Schark is able to identify several that stand out on the Salukis’ schedule. 

“Any conference weekend. Big ones are like Missouri State, Evansville,” Schark said. “Anybody ranked above us, you know.” 

Schark and the Salukis will enter the year with ideas of defiance on their mind, as many pundits aren’t giving them the love the Dawgs feel they deserve.

“We’re trying to prove people wrong. Preseason rankings came out and we were fifth, and I think that’s wrong. I think we’re a lot better than what people think we’re going to be,” Schark said.

Fueled in part by the lack of respect, players remain eager for the season to begin and demonstrate what the Dawgs can do.

“I’m just excited for it. The team’s put in a lot of work all offseason and the guys look good. I think everyone on the field is excited to get out there and play and kind of show what we do,” Hansell said.

Though they’re in the dugout rather than on the diamond, Rhodes and his staff feel the same.

“We feel like we’ve done a good job recruiting,” Rhodes said, “We’ve worked hard over the last year, and we’re excited to let these guys go and see what their hard work is made of.”

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and on X @dailyegyptian.

 

 

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