FROM PRESS RELEASE
NORMAL, Ill. – With the 2007 Major League Baseball regular season over and the playoffs just a day away, the Illinois State baseball team has also caught the fever and has already begun preparing for the 2008 season. With a solid mix of returning veterans and young, raw talent, the Redbird baseball team will be put to the test in its 2008 schedule. Five NCAA qualifiers highlight the 54-game schedule for the Redbirds, which kicks off Feb. 22, 2008, at Tennessee Tech in Cooksville, Tenn.
After the `Birds begin the season with a three-game set against Tennessee Tech, the team will head to Clarksville, Tenn., to play in the Austin Peay Tournament Feb. 29-March 2. Illinois State will play Big Ten Conference member Indiana, as well as Valparaiso, during the tournament, and will play one more game in Clarksville before beginning its spring trip in Florida.
The Redbirds will spend eight days in the Sunshine State, playing a series at NCAA Regional qualifier Bethune-Cookman March 7-9. The rest of the trip will be spent at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The IMG Academy, which specializes in professional instruction to amateur and professional players, will allow the Redbirds to fine-tune their skills before beginning the demanding Missouri Valley Conference slate.
“I think that at the beginning of the year, when you are coming from indoors to outdoors, we try to play a competitive schedule that will help our RPI,” said head baseball coach Jim Brownlee. “I think this schedule does that. We have a lot of good teams on our schedule, including five regional teams.
“When you make the schedule three years ahead of time, you can’t always project how teams will be. But you like to have a nice balance, and with this schedule, we hope to get ourselves into the top-40 in order to be an at-large team. That’s our goal every year, and we like to also give our kids a chance to go to a different part of the country every year.”
After returning from its spring trip, ISU will play in-state rival Illinois-Chicago before diving into Valley play at home versus 2007 NCAA Super Regional qualifier Wichita State March 21-23. The Redbirds will also host Northern Iowa (April 11-13) as well as in-state rivals Bradley (May 2-4) and Southern Illinois (May 9-11).
“I think the league is going to be very interesting from the standpoint that there were a lot of good players that were lost,” said Brownlee. “Wichita State is good every year and they have their top-three starting pitchers back, and that will be a good challenge for our hitters. There are no easy games in our league, and its something that I’m proud of; its one of the best in the country. Creighton and Evansville have also had some good teams recently and should be tough again this year.
“I think it’s our goal to move into that top-three of the Valley standings. I can see us being able to do that, and based on the performances I have seen this fall, we have a good chance of doing that.”
The Redbirds will travel to 2007 MVC Tournament champion Creighton March 28-30 before playing Evansville (April 4-6) and Missouri State (April 25-27) on the road. ISU concludes its season with a three-game series at Indiana State (May 15-17).
Illinois State will also see its share of schools from the Midwest, as the `Birds will play six other non-conference games against schools from Illinois, including Eastern Illinois (March 26) and Illinois April 22. The Redbirds will also travel to Iowa City, Iowa, April 2 for a game against Iowa and will face fellow Big Ten member Purdue April 9.
“We’re very fortunate to be located in a state that has nine division one schools that we can play, so it helps with the short amount of time that the guys will miss from class,” said Brownlee. “It also allows us to play some competitive teams. The Big Ten got the best of us last year, so it will be a good test. We want to take care of business within the state, and that’s always a goal. It’s very easy to schedule our non-conference games, and we like to schedule games close to where our guys are from.”