Baseball: Middle of the order paces SIU offense

By Gus Bode

When the dust cleared after the SIU baseball team’s demoralizing sweep at the hands of No. 11 Wichita State, the Salukis hung their heads – they were swept for the first time in 2007 and were run-ruled for the third time in their last four Missouri Valley Conference games.

While Sunday’s 19-9 loss dropped SIU to fifth place in the MVC, sophomore catcher Mark Kelly and junior first baseman Adam Hills provide hope for the remaining 19 regular season games. Kelly’s hot hitting hasn’t stopped – his .442 batting average leads the MVC – and although Hills’ 18-game hitting streak came to an end Sunday, he still ranks in the MVC top 20 in batting average, hitting at a .336 clip.

With Hills and Kelly hitting third and fourth, respectively, the combination has made both players more effective.

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“Mark’s a great hitter behind me and it helps me see good pitches every once and a while,” Hills said. “If they pitch around me then they got to go right to Mark, so that’s a pretty good combination.”

Kelly and Hills each have one home run, but the duo has shown they can drive in runs by simply putting the ball in play. Kelly’s 44 RBIs rank second in the MVC, while Hills’ 28 RBIs ranks third on SIU.

Kelly said he’s stayed with the same approach the entire season but is looking to improve in different situations.

“I’m not up there trying to guess what pitches are coming. I just want to keep giving the team what it needs and drive in runs in key situations,” Kelly said. “I had a two-run double earlier in the game but then I come out with the bases loaded in the seventh and I strike out looking. I can’t have that because good hitters don’t do that.”

Pitch selection has also been key to both players’ success. Hills’ plate discipline has paid dividends all season – he leads the MVC with 26 walks and his .452 on base percentage is second only to Kelly on SIU.

Kelly, the free swinger of the two, only has seven walks this season, but has only struck out 15 times. He also has the second best on base percentage in the MVC at .472.

Saluki coach Dan Callahan said he’s been pleased with everything Kelly has done offensively this season.

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“He was very average on defense this weekend, which was a little bit disappointing, but I’ve said all along that if we’re not careful, we’re going to wear him out,” Callahan said. “Unfortunately, there’s quite a disparity between him and other catchers, but he’s doing everything he should to take care of himself.”

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