Baseball Preview: Leathernecks look to bounce back from short, rough 2020 campaign

After a year of uncertainty and confusion, college baseball has finally returned, and the Leathernecks of Western Illinois are ready to get back on the diamond after almost a year’s delay. It will certainly be a season to remember.

                 Western Illinois comes into this season really trying to forget the last one. After the cancellation of the season, the Leathernecks were sitting winless. They started off the season at the University of Tennessee and ended up getting swept by the scores of 3-0, 19-0 and 23-4. They then traveled to Indianapolis to take on the Butler Bulldogs and got swept by the scores of 3-2, 9-4 and 6-1. They went back to Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers and lost by the scores of 24-3, 8-5 and 23-8. After this, they went to Columbia, Mo. to take on the Missouri Tigers and lost by the scores of 7-3, 6-5 and 7-4. After this, in the last game of the season, they went to Austin Peay and lost by a score of 10-1, ending the season at 0-13. 

                With this, Andy Pascoe still has yet to get his first win as the Leathernecks head coach. With a few of the many losses last year being in the double digits, the pitching has to be better. And I believe that a few Leathernecks pitchers will have bounceback years. Freshman lefty Johnny Beck will be destined to have a great campaign. The 6’8 230 pounder from Rochelle, Ill. had a rough shortened season last year, but I will have my eye on him this year to be a bright spot. Another pitcher to watch is RHP Justin Foy. As a sophomore in 2019, he held opponents’ batting average to .225, the team best. He also threw four straight scoreless outings to end the 2019 campaign. And there are, of course, a few hitters to watch for. Catcher Jayden Gibson was one of the bright spots in a dark season hitting last year. He made eight starts and appeared in nine out of the 13 games. He also tallied the first hit of the season and threw out seven runners while behind the plate. A certain player to watch for. The Leathernecks also return the leading hitter from last year, Kevin Raisbeck, who batted .271. The infield is also rounded out by Trenton Bauer and Dillon Sears, two good power bats that could be dangerous.

                    A lot of uncertainty comes into this season, because the Leathernecks will need to find their identity early, and there will be many tough tests to begin this season. Their first series against Central Arkansas was cancelled this past weekend, so now the team will start the season against a powerhouse and travel to take on the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals for a three game series. This is a great opportunity for the Leathernecks to find their identity and see if they can compete with top talent. Those games will be broadcasted on ACC Network Extra. After this series, they will travel to Indiana to take on the Evansville Aces. They will then go to Carbondale to take on Southern Illinois for a single game and then head to the Saint Louis area to take on the SLU Billikens for a three-game series along with SIU Edwardsville for one game before the Summit opener against North Dakota State at Alfred D. Boyer Stadium on March 19. There will be a lot of tough tests early on, but the Leathernecks will be ready.