Baseball to start season in Tennessee

David Koier, Sports Writer

The weather is warming, up the sun is shining and the ballplayers are lacing up their cleats once again. Baseball season is back, and the Western Illinois University Leathernecks are going to better themselves from last season.

The Leathernecks finished their 2018 campaign with a 17-31 overall record while posting a 14-12 conference record, a record that saw the Purple and Gold as the Summit League runner ups.

Last season was one of the most successful in a while for the Leathernecks as their 14 wins in the Summit League were their most league wins in the past 12 seasons. Their Summit League wins were highlighted by a 2-1 series win over the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts, who have won the Summit League title five seasons straight.

Coach Ryan Brownlee returns for his seventh season along with his support staff of Matt Risdon, Parker Osborne and Trey Hannam. Brownlee is the fourth coach who has had the most wins in Western baseball history, tallying 71 wins in his seven seasons.

The road ahead won’t be an easy one for the Leathernecks. This season the Purple and Gold go toe to toe with some of the nation’s best teams. Three of Western’s opponents qualified for the NCAA tournament last season including Oral Roberts, Saint Louis and the NCAA College World Series runner-ups Arkansas.

The Leathernecks added nine players to their already strong roster, bringing in six freshmen while also adding three junior college transfers. The new recruits join the Leathernecks roster that has six returning seniors, four of which were starters last season.

Of the six returning seniors, two stand out as big returns for the team. Outfielder Steve McShane and utility man Deion Thompson return to power this Leatherneck offense.

McShane, who also served as the Leatherneck football team’s star runningback, returns after having been named to the 2018 First Team All-Summit League team with his team leading .317 batting average, an average that placed him sixth in the Summit League.

In his 39 games played (38 of which he started), McShane had 45 hits with seven doubles and two triples, while also tallying 18 runs accompanied by 14 RBIs. McShane showed his running back speed on the bases, successfully stealing nine bases on 10 attempts.

Thompson also had an outstanding 2018 campaign. He led the Leatherneck baseball team in hits (48), doubles (9), home runs (6), RBIs (30), total bases (75) and stolen bases (17). He also appeared on the Summit League leaderboards in home runs and stolen bases, ranking eighth and third respectively.

Returning on the mound for the Leathernecks is right-handed junior Javin Drake. Drake is the only returning starter for the Purple and Gold who finished the 2018 campaign with a sub-four ERA with his 3.96 ERA, which also ranked sixth amongst Summit League starters. Drake recorded 53 strikeouts in his 50.2 innings pitched.

With their strong recruiting and even stronger returning starters, the Leathernecks look like they can make a strong run this season against some tough opponents. The Purple and Gold start off their season this weekend with a series against the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech. The game times from Cookeville, Tenn. today at 1 p.m. and a doubleheader tomorrow starting at 11 a.m.