Baseball defies coaches poll, sits in fifth halfway through season, insists it can win it all

By Gus Bode

Halfway through the season, the SIU baseball team finds itself in third place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, – in hitting and – pitching.

They split a series with second-place Indiana State in Terre Haute and won a game by virtue of the 10-run rule.

But it’s still not good enough.

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As it prepares for its Wednesday excursion to Southeast Missouri State, the team is looking back on a couple of blown opportunities and wondering what could have been.

“Right now, we’re happy, but the whole team knows we could be a lot better,” said pitcher Brian Rueger, who leads the Saluki starting staff with a jaw-dropping 1.32 ERA. “Right now, as a whole, we are happy because we are playing pretty well right now, but we know we haven’t played as well as we can.”

Many team members continue to view their split at Indiana State as negative, and seemed just as disappointed about Saturday’s loss to Illinois State. The reason is not simply because they lost a game. They know that happens occasionally in baseball.

The problem is that both those situations displayed the problem that has been plaguing the Salukis lately – not firing on all cylinders.

Against Indiana State, the Salukis pitched well, but scored only one run in the final two games of the series. In Saturday’s loss to Illinois State, the offense eventually worked, but the defense committed three errors and the pitching staff surrendered 10 runs.

“We just got to start putting it all together,” said pitcher Jake Alley. “We can’t have days where we hit good and we pitch bad, or we hit bad and we pitch good. We gotta start hitting and pitching and fielding all at the same time.

“We’ve just got to put it all together. We’ve got the pieces of the puzzle, now we just got to put it together.”

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Though the team considers itself to be a bit out of whack, it is still impressive that it has managed to defy the odds this far into the season.

The Salukis were picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches poll, and are two games ahead of Creighton, the team that currently occupies that position.

Rueger said what the team felt was a low placement has put somewhat of a chip on the shoulders of the Salukis, and they are eager to throw it back in the face of some coaches.

“I think it does,” Rueger said when asked if the preseason poll affected the team at all. “We all expected to get better and after we all saw that we were picked fifth, I think it just motivated us more to try to do better and prove them wrong.”

SIU, obviously, wants to finish better than fifth, and though it could be a daunting challenge with mighty Wichita State sitting atop the conference with a 7-1 record, the team still believes it can make a run for a Valley title.

“We want to win the conference this year,” said sophomore Andrew Weber. “We have the talent to do it, and hopefully we will do it. I’m pretty sure that we’re going to, cause we got a good group of guys here.”

Reporter Michael Brenner can be reached at [email protected]

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