Dawgs begin season’s longest road stretch

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Dawgs begin season’s longest road stretch

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

Itchy Jones Stadium has been home sweet home for Southern Illinois baseball this season, as 27 of the Salukis’ first 33 games were played there. 

The Dawgs will be road warriors for the majority of the remainder of spring — 15 of their next 19 games will be played away from the comforts of home.

“I’m not too excited about it,” coach Ken Henderson said. “I’m a fan of the friendly confines of the Itch.”

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SIU is 2-5 on the road, compared to 18-8-1 at home. But not everyone is so eager to stay in Carbondale.

“I love playing on the road, personally,” junior right fielder Jake Hand said. “A lot of guys say that they love playing at home, but when we’ve played so many games at home, I’m itching to play some games on the road. I like seeing other places and playing in different atmospheres.”

Hand is batting .292 (7-24) with five RBIs in six road games. He is a .276 hitter at home and bats .279 overall.

The Dawgs as a team have batted .235 in seven games on the road, as opposed to .281 in 27 home games.

Conversely, Saluki hurlers have fared better away from home, posting a 2.59 earned run average on the road and a 4.12 mark at Itchy Jones Stadium, which members of the team regard as a pitchers’ park.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Henderson said. “It’s not like we haven’t been on the road before. It doesn’t matter how much you play on the road, it’s always tougher. We’re going to play some tough people, but it’s still the same game. We still get nine ABs, still got to get people out. I don’t think there will be a significant change.”

SIU’s first road series since the first week of the season will be against one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s toughest teams.

Dallas Baptist (20-12, 2-0 MVC) is 15-6 at home this year and 40-12 at Horner Ballpark since the start of 2015.

“It’s a tough place to play,” Henderson said. “It sits up on a hill and it’s a small park. The wind always blows out. I think coach [Dan] Heefner does a great job of recruiting to his park.” 

Hand is looking forward to the trip down south.

“I like [Dallas] a lot,” he said. “I like to travel on the plane and I like to go to Texas. It’s a great state to play in. The weather’s always nice. Their facilities are incredible, and the conditions are usually pretty consistent.”

The Salukis will fly to Dallas on Thursday, have a team workout that night, and meet for homework and breakfast Friday morning.

“One thing we do that I’m proud of is our study table,” Henderson said. “We’ll be gone for four days, but it’s not a four-day vacation from school. I emphasize that we’ve got to continue to work on our academics.”

Junior pitcher Chad Whitmer said, even with the study table, weekend road trips make classwork a challenge.

“All your work gets piled up into the weekend,” said the Salukis’ Saturday starter. “Any college student can agree with that. It does make it more difficult when you’ve got to do it at the hotel rather than the computer lab.”

On the field, the Salukis won’t have to worry much about getting used to playing on the Patriots’ field. Horner Ballpark features an Astroturf playing surface, similar to Itchy Jones Stadium. 

The Salukis and Patriots start their three-game weekend series at 6:30 p.m. Friday night at Horner Ballpark. Junior lefty Joey Marciano (2-3, 4.17 ERA) will take the mound for SIU.

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

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