Salukis begin positional battles at practice

Salukis begin positional battles at practice

By Aaron Graff

Despite temperatures outside starting to plummet, the Saluki baseball team is heating things up during indoor practices with only three weeks left until the first pitch is thrown.

The season will kick off Feb. 14, and an NCAA rule only allows 18 practices before the first game. Coach Ken Henderson said the team will practice six days a week, and he wants to practice every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to get starting pitchers used to the normal game schedule.

“We got to get those guys on the mound,” Henderson said. “We got to get their pitch count up. We got to get them in some kind of routine, and that’s why we need to be outside, so we need a little cooperation from the weather.”


Henderson said he would like to practice outside as much as possible to scrimmage. He said scrimmaging would help him determine who is going to fill every spot on the depth chart.

“We have a lot of questions that need to be answered in the next three weeks and even in the first few weeks of the season,” Henderson said. “We have some guys positionally that can play two or three different positions.”

Henderson said it is too early to have the pitching rotation completely decided, but junior Sam Coonrod and redshirt junior Aaron Hauge will both head into the season as starters. He said one senior has a good chance of being named to the rotation.

“It’s our plan to move Todd Eaton into the starting rotation,” Henderson said. “The guy has been our closer for the last three years, and he has done a great job there, but we think he has the ability to start.”

Eaton has been a Second Team All-Missouri Valley Conference relief pitcher the past two seasons. Despite not starting since his freshman season, Eaton said he wants to start, but if it does not work out for him, he said he could always go back to closing.

“I started in high school,” Eaton said. “I started a few games my freshman year. I didn’t do so well, then I started closing, so it’s definitely been a while.”

As for hitters, Henderson said there are 12 guys that have potential to play every day. He said senior shortstop Jake Welch and senior catcher Matt Jones will go into the season starting at their positions.


Welch said the team has a lot of solid younger players that have the potential to start, and they will challenge the older players for playing time.

“This year we are really deep at every position,” Welch said. “The lineup especially is a question mark because we have a lot of guys that can swing and a lot of guys that can run.”

Henderson said the problem is a good problem to have because they have options. He said he is not in a hurry to determine exactly where every player fits, but he expects the position battles to roll into the beginning of the season.

“It’s not one of those years where you go in and say these eight guys are set in stone and these guys are definitely going to fill this particular role on the mound,” Henderson said. “We’ve got a lot of things to figure out and that’s a great thing.”

Henderson said Welch would start nearly every game at shortstop barring unseen circumstances. He said Jones would not be able to catch every day, but will be the man behind the plate for the majority of the games.

Welch said he wants to get back in the conference championship this season. He said the team is not happy with how they finished last season, and they fell short of the championship his sophomore season.

“We had it, and it kind of slipped out of our hands,” Welch said. “I really want to get back there and have a different result, and I really want to get that ring on my finger by the end of my career here.”

The Salukis will be playing their home games on a different field this year. SIU has been renovating the field, which cost roughly $4 million. Jones said the stadium is helping the Salukis find a new image.

“(Henderson) has kind of labeled this year one,” Jones said. “With a new stadium and a new direction we are going with the program, this could be the start of something big for Saluki baseball.”

The Salukis’ first series will start Feb. 14 at Western Kentucky University, and their first home series will be against Northern Illinois University starting Feb. 28.

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected], @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269