Baseball raises the stakes against Redhawks

Jacob VanZuiden, Courier Staff

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After jumping out to an early lead in each of their last two games, the Western Illinois baseball team was unable to finish off their opponent. It was a tough go-around in their first three-game series of the 2019 season, but this squad will look to right the ship this week against Southeast Missouri State. A team with multiple veteran leaders returning from last season, the Leathernecks will look to improve on its 17-31 record in 2018 and secure the program’s first above-.500 season since 2007.

In their upcoming matchup against Redhawks, the Purple and Gold will continue to look toward senior utility-man Bailey Montgomery to lead the offensive charge. Montgomery has been a bright spot through three games, leading the team with three base hits, three runs scored and four total bases. Also standing out thus far is the Leathernecks’ baserunning success. Through just three games, the group has a total of eight stolen bases. Leading the bunch are senior Deion Thompson and junior Kevin Raisbeck, who have each swiped two bags in the early-going.

While 0-3 isn’t the ideal spot that the team envisioned to begin the year, there is still plenty of baseball to be played (49 games to be exact). Most importantly, head coach Ryan Brownlee said after the game that his team had a good understanding of what they’ve done wrong and how they can improve on these mistakes next time out. He reiterated the importance of finishing close games.

“The team also commented on good energy but mentioned that we need to sustain it from the first pitch to the last pitch,” Brownlee said. “It took us a little bit to get comfortable at the plate. We showed more of what we are going to be late in the game. Once we relax as a unit and shrink the hitting area in our counts, the numbers will come.“

Western’s opponents, Southeast Missouri State, isn’t going to make things easy. The Redhawks have been scorching-hot out of the gates, averaging over eight runs per game. Their offense’s ability to click has been their recipe for success, having five different players with at least 4 hits through four contests. One Redhawk to keep an eye on in this matchup is sophomore Tyler Wilber. He’s currently either tied for the lead or leading Southeastern Missouri in hits (six), runs scored (five), batting average (.500) and on-base percentage (.611). Behind him in the batting order is a proven power-punch with five different players already with a home run under their belt. Needless to say, the Leathernecks will have to be on top of their game.

The Purple and Gold will be forced to give their utmost effort in order to avoid dropping to 0-4, falling further down in the Summit League standings. Since their current record isn’t where they would like it to be, they certainly won’t let it define them. They’ll take their underdog status coming into Saturday’s game in hopes of using it to their advantage as a motivation factor.

After wrapping up their three-game bout against SEMO, the Leathernecks will hit the road again, but won’t have to travel far this time. On March 1, they’ll face the Southern Illinois Salukis in Carbondale, Ill. for their first in-state series of 2019.

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