2009 Southern Illinois Season Preview

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
With a quality group of returnees and a nice blend of newcomers, the Southern Illinois University baseball team is primed for its 2009 season. “I think we have the personnel to make a run at a conference title,” said head coach Dan Callahan. “We’ve proven the last seven years that we are one of the top-three teams in the Valley.” If there’s any area that may be a concern, it’s depth, as the Salukis return only four position starters and one starting pitcher from a team that went 34-23 overall and 12-12 in the MVC last season. Catcher Mark Kelly, infielder Scott Elmendorf, outfielders Chris Murphy and Aaron Roberts, and pitcher Adam Curynski are back. In addition, SIU welcomes 14 new players to this year’s team, nine of which are transfers. “I think we have to stay healthy because we could have an issue with depth,” said Callahan. “Consistency and health will be the keys to our success.”

Catching
Mark Kelly (Hanover Park, Ill.) sets to begin his third year as SIU’s starting catcher. A preseason all-MVC and two-time first-team all-conference pick, Kelly led the team in batting average and RBI each of the last two seasons. He currently ranks seventh in career batting average (.363) at SIU and enters his senior year on a 10-game hitting streak. “Mark has a track record of performing well in the clutch,” said Callahan. “He’s the type of player who is going to get guys to follow him.” Backing up Kelly behind the dish will be senior Tyler Bullock (DuQuoin, Ill.). Bullock started nine games behind the plate and 27 as designated hitter last season. He led the team with six home runs and ranked second in both doubles (13) and slugging percentage (.477). Junior Tom Cerven (Minooka, Ill.) and sophomore Brian Bajer (Oak Forest, Ill.) round out the catching corps. Cerven saw limited action, playing in eight games a year ago. Bajer joins the Salukis from Butler University, but has to sit out the 2009 season due to NCAA transfer regulations.

Infield
Preseason all-MVC senior second baseman Scott Elmendorf (Newburgh, Ind.) returns to anchor SIU’s infield again this season. A four-year starter, Elmendorf played in 55 of 57 games and was one of five Salukis to hit over .300 in 2008. “Scott has the ability to be a legitimate two-hole hitter and we look for even bigger things from him on offense this year,” said Callahan. Freshman John Brennan (Grays Lake, Ill.) will challenge Elmendorf at second. Brennan redshirted the 2008 season. Junior Michael Stalter (Hopedale, Ill.) is expected to start at shortstop. Stalter hit over .400 in two years of junior college baseball, including one at Lincoln Land and one at Heartland CC. He was a first-team all-conference selection in each of those seasons, while earning Freshman Player-of-the-Year and NJCAA All-American honors in 2007. “Michael has the ability to be an exciting player,” said Callahan. “He’s good on offense and defense, and has great instincts on the basepaths. I think Saluki fans are going to be impressed with his abilities.” True freshman Chris Serritella (Glenview, Ill.) and junior Tony Lepore (Orland Park, Ill.) are projected to start at first and third, respectively. A left-handed hitter, Serritella was a two-time all-conference pick at Loyola Academy. He set the school’s home run record as a senior and hit over .400 as both a junior and senior. Meanwhile, Lepore hit .458 with 25 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 42 RBI in 57 games at South Suburban Community College a year ago. Lepore also won the junior college Silver Slugger Award that is presented to the top hitter at each position. Junior Wade Dutton (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia) will also be in the mix at first and third. Dutton comes to SIU from Wabash Valley College, where he hit .388 with 37 RBI in 2008. He is the most versatile player on this year’s club. “Wade is a true utility guy. He has enough athleticism to be in the lineup everyday, giving us more options,” said Callahan. Kelly could be another possibility if the Dawgs get in a pinch at first.

Outfield

Sparked by the return of sophomore center fielder Chris Murphy (Sewickley, Pa.) and junior right fielder Aaron Roberts (Chatham, Ill.), the Saluki outfield appears to be in great shape. Murphy started 52 of 55 games and ranked second on the team with 19 multiple-hit games as a true freshman. Roberts, a three-year starter, ranked second on the team in both RBI (33) and stolen bases (6). He committed only one error last season. “Our outfield should again be one of the best in the conference,” said Callahan. Sophomore Chase Sanford (Catlin, Ill.) and freshman Jordan Sivertsen (Richmond, Ill.) will duke it out for the starting job in left field. Sanford played in 21 games and made two starts as a freshman last season. Sivertsen joins the Salukis from Carmel Catholic High School, where he was a three-time all-state, all-area and all-conference honoree.

Starting Pitching
Several question marks surround this year’s pitching staff after SIU lost two-thirds of its starting rotation. Cody Adams (2nd round draft pick of Milwaukee) and Shawn Joy (free agent with New York Yankees) each signed professional baseball contracts, leaving third-year pitching coach Tim Dixon with a big gap to fill. Senior RHP Adam Curynski (Webster, N.Y.) is the lone returning starter. An honorable mention all-MVC pick, Curynski looks to move to the front of the rotation after going 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA as the Salukis’ Sunday starter last season. He led the team with a .833 winning percentage and ranked second with three saves, as well. “Adam had a great second half last year and we are confident he can be a strong frontline pitcher for us,” said Callahan. Senior right-handers Andrew Dunn (Marion, Ill.) and David Kington (Coquitlam, B.C., Canada) also had starting experience last season. Dunn, one of SIU’s most improved players in the fall, started 10 of his 14 appearances. Kington made seven starts in 10 appearances, ranking third on the team with 37 strikeouts. Junior right-handed pitcher Nathan Forer (Brampton, Ontario, Canada) and junior left-hander Jimmy Cornell (Poplar Bluff, Mo.) are other potential starters. Forer pitched in 18 games over the last two years at Kaskaskia College, going a combined 3-1 with 56 Ks in 58.2 innings. Cornell went 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 16 appearances for the Salukis in 2008. He also struck out 24 in 20.2 innings, recording a season-high six Ks at Northern Iowa (4/26). “Nathan and Jimmy showed over the course of the fall that they have the ability to be in the starting rotation,” said Callahan.

Relief Pitching
Preseason all-MVC junior closer Bryant George (DuQuoin, Ill.) is the Dawgs’ top reliever. George enters the year needing five saves to break SIU’s career record, currently held by Al Levine (19 saves, 1990-91). He led the team with four saves in 17 appearances a year ago after recording 11 saves in 2007. “Bryant will consistently throw in the low 90s. He is a legitimate closer at this level and relishes that role,” said Callahan. Senior LHP Daniel Wells (Plainfield, Ill.), junior RHP Kellen Candau (Cedar Park, Texas), redshirt-sophomore Daniel Etienne (Eldorado, Ill.) and senior RHP Brad Lawrence (Blytheville, Ark.) should also chew up innings out of the bullpen. Wells and Candau could serve as prominent set-up men for George. Wells, SIU’s all-time leader in appearances, led the MVC with 28 relief games last season. Candau compiled a 7-5 record in two seasons at Santa Rosa Junior College. In the first year after his Tommy John surgery, Etienne recorded a 1.89 ERA, the best of any Saluki reliever in 2008. Lawrence returns after sitting out the 2008 season. He was 3-0 in 17 appearances when he last played for the Salukis in 2007. Cornell, Etienne and Lawrence are also valid candidates for midweek starting roles. Garrett Armstrong (Jr., RHP, San Jose, Calif.), Andrew Bever (Jr., RHP, Lafayette, Ind.), Ryan Bradley (Jr., RHP, Mattoon, Ill.), Kevin Cover (Jr., RHP, Pueblo, Colo.), Tom Danahy (Jr., RHP, Billings, Mont.), Neil Hudson (Fr., RHP, Lafayette, Ind.) and Brian Pullyblank (Jr., RHP, Caledonia, N.Y.) should also provide valuable innings out of the pen.

2009 Schedule

SIU will be tested out of the gate when it heads south for the first two weeks of the season. The Salukis face 2008 NCAA Tournament participants James Madison (Feb. 20) and Coastal Carolina (Feb. 20 and 21) at the Caravelle Resort Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Salukis also face Troy (Feb. 22) during that trip. Following a midweek game at Tennessee-Martin (Feb. 24), SIU heads to DeLand, Fla., for the Bright House Invitational (Feb. 27-Mar. 1). The Salukis, Stetson, South Alabama and Iowa make up this year’s field. SIU then returns home for a 10-game homestand, its longest of the season. The Salukis will face Tennessee-Martin (Mar. 3), Eastern Illinois (Mar. 4), Northern Illinois (Mar. 6-8), Ball State (Mar. 10-11) and North Dakota (Mar. 13-15) during that stand. Middle Tennessee State (Mar. 17-18), Arkansas State (Mar. 25), Murray State (Mar. 31, Apr. 1), SE Missouri (Apr. 7, Apr. 14), Jacksonville State (Apr. 10-11), Illinois (Apr. 15, Apr. 28) and Saint Louis (May 12) are the rest of this year’s non-conference opponents. The Dawgs open MVC play at home against Northern Iowa (Mar. 20-22). SIU also hosts Missouri State (Apr. 3-5), Illinois State (Apr. 24-26) and Wichita State (May 8-10), while visiting Creighton (Mar. 27-29), Indiana State (Apr. 17-19), Bradley (May 1-3) and Evansville (May 14-16). The 2009 State Farm MVC Tournament (May 20-23) returns to Wichita, Kan., this year.

Salukis Fourth in MVC Preseason Poll
SIU was picked fourth in the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, released Feb. 3. Missouri State (80 pts.) was voted this year’s favorite, garnering eight of the possible nine first-place votes. Creighton and 2008 MVC Champion Wichita State were also picked ahead of SIU. Bradley, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State and Evansville filled the other five spots in the poll. Two-time, first-team all-MVC catcher Mark Kelly, infielder Scott Elmendorf and right-handed pitcher Bryant George represent SIU on the 2009 Preseason All-Conference Team. The Salukis, Bears and Bluejays had the most preseason picks with three apiece.