Speed Kills: Saluki Baseball set to strike terror on the base paths

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Speed Kills: Saluki Baseball set to strike terror on the base paths

Senior pitcher Allen Montgomery pitches the ball Saturday, March 3, 2018, during the Warkhawks 13-7 win against the Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Senior pitcher Allen Montgomery pitches the ball Saturday, March 3, 2018, during the Warkhawks 13-7 win against the Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Dylan Nelson

Senior pitcher Allen Montgomery pitches the ball Saturday, March 3, 2018, during the Warkhawks 13-7 win against the Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

Dylan Nelson

Dylan Nelson

Senior pitcher Allen Montgomery pitches the ball Saturday, March 3, 2018, during the Warkhawks 13-7 win against the Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium.(Dylan Nelson | @Dylan_Nelson99)

By Adam Warfel, Sports Editor

Typically within school, there are three sporting seasons– fall, winter and spring. You’ll run the gamut of sports – 16 during a regular school year at Southern. For Head Coach Ken Henderson’s squad – spring is for baseball.

The Salukis open their baseball season up against Nicholls State on February 16. For Henderson, the new season brings new expectations.

“This is my 29th year,” Henderson said. “I can say without hesitation, I am more excited about Saluki baseball right now than at any point in my 29 years here.”

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Henderson said he looks forward to this year’s season – not only because of the team – but because of the support from Jerry Kill, interim SIU Athletic Director.

“Coach Kill has made a commitment to Saluki baseball unlike anything that’s been done in my 29 years,” Henderson said. “He has stepped up and sent a message to our team and our program that he cares about Saluki baseball.”

Henderson mentioned several new features that fans can see at Itchy Jones Stadium – including a flightscope machine, a new video system and new padding to go along with new lighting.

“We’re going to increase the lighting. we’re going to vastly improve that,”Henderson said. “It’s good but it’s not great, right now we have 80 some bulbs, and we [have] a project going on to add 40 some bulbs.”

Henderson noted SIU has historically had good players and teams, but mentioned that the pool of players he has this season is unmatched.

“We’ve had some really good players in the past, we’ve had some good teams,” Henderson said. “We’ve not had a collection of them like we do right now – this is the most complete team we’ve had.”

For the last two years Saluki baseball has been all about speed, finishing fourth last season nationally in steals.

For fans wondering, don’t expect that to change this season.

“We do run better this year, we’re more athletic and we’re faster than we’ve ever been in my time here,” Henderson said. “Up and down the lineup we’ll be able to run.”

Senior outfielder Alex Lyon, who finished second in steals on the team last year, also noted how much faster this years team is compared to last years.

“We definitely have a lot more speed, our lineup is going to be really fast,” Lyon said.

As far as the mentality of speed and how that can affect the opponents it adds another component that the opposition has to be aware of.

“It wears down other teams, I feel like there is always guys wanting to steal or move up bases,” Lyon said. “I feel like it creates chaos for other teams though – it’s the world of difference having speed on the paths.”

Saluki football fans might find one name in common with the baseball team, as senior Matt Desomer will take the mound pitching this season, adding to the quarterbacking he did in the fall.

“He’s going to help us he’s got a great feel for pitching,” Henderson said. “That’s the one thing after five years – you think his arm is going to get better but does he have command and he has proven he can do that.”

Turning to the infield and the position players, Henderson noticed that their experience on the diamond will be valuable this season.

“Our position players are experienced and it should be the strength of our ball club,” Henderson said.”That infield is awfully good, Niko Vasic is back at second base, Grey Epps will slide over to shortstop.”

Henderson said while the infield has vast experience it lacks depth, the outfield on the other hand will provide plenty of depth for the Dawgs.

“The outfield is opposite of the infield, we have a ton of depth in the outfield,” Henderson said. “I feel really good about the infield as long as they stay healthy – that will be one of the fastest outfields around.”

As far as how that depth in the outfield looks like from a player’s perspective for Lyon, it has helped him to become a better player than he already was.

“It’s definitely pushed me to get a little better, no ones guaranteed a spot everyday,” Lyon said. “It’s definitely helped me to improve my game, it’s definitely nice having that depth.”

In the preseason poll, the Salukis were picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference behind Missouri State, Dallas Baptist, Indiana State and Bradley.

“I don’t think too much of it because preseason is preseason,” Lyon said.”There’s so many different things we have a brand new team this year, I think it just comes down to whoever just finishes good at the end.”

Henderson said he sees the preseason poll as no surprise being put precisely where he thought his team would be based off of who they had returning.

“Every coach wants to be picked at the top, [this is] exactly where I thought we’d be picked,” Henderson said.”Polls are based strictly on what you have returning because in baseball – we don’t know a lot about what other teams have brought in.”

As for the mentality in the clubhouse, not many believe the team will finish fifth in a conference that Henderson mentioned any of six teams could finish at the top.

“If you go into our clubhouse, you’re not going to find one guy who thinks we’re going to finish fifth,” Henderson said.”I truly believe that six teams have a chance to win the league, it’s a testament to how strong the league is.”

The Salukis will open the season on February 15th against Nicholls State at 1 p.m.

“I’m so excited, I feel like this offseason has been way too long,” Lyon said.”I’m really excited to get back out there, I just love playing baseball, that’s my main priority, I just want to get out there and play.”

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