March 14, 2012
By Scott Gierman
CARBONDALE, IL - 1. The Salukis are nearly a month into the 2012 baseball season with a little more than a quarter of the regular season complete. However, only five of SIU's 16 games this year have been at home so many fans may not yet have had a chance to see the Dawgs, who are 11-5 and off to their best start in five years.
2. It's already been a memorable season. Last month at the Bright House Invitational, hosted by Stetson University, the Salukis beat No. 19 Stetson during their three-game sweep of the tournament. It was SIU's first non-conference road victory over a ranked team since 2005. By the way, Stetson has gone 4-1 since that game and moved up to No. 14 in the NCAA rankings. That weekend marked the program's first sweep of a three-game non-conference tournament since 1999.
3. Since starting the season 4-4, Southern is 7-1. Not a bad start for a team that was picked to finish sixth out of eight teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. Although we're still a couple weeks away from the start of the Valley season, as of Wednesday, the Salukis are a game back of the best record in the MVC (Indiana State is 12-4).
4. The Salukis rank 12th in the nation in runs scored with 126. That's an average of nearly eight runs per game. First baseman Chris Serritella is hitting .424 and ranks 10th in the nation in RBI (23) and seventh in total bases (49). Junior right fielder Austin Montgomery has provided protection behind him in the cleanup spot with 20 RBI and a .409 batting average.
5. While Southern's three and four hitters have combined for an astounding 43 RBI in 16 games, setting the table are a couple of sophomores. Leadoff man Jake Welch is hitting .345 and has scored 19 runs in the 13 games he's played. That's an average of nearly 1.5 per game, which ranks 10th in the nation. Third baseman Donny Duschinsky has hit his way into the second spot in the order with a .373 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage.
7. In regards to the pitching, the coaching staff has used the early part of the season auditioning midweek starters and trying to match pitchers with roles. After allowing 7.5 runs per game in February, the pitching staff has surrendered 5.5 per game in March. Subtract one 14-run game last week, and that number shrinks to less than 4.5 runs a game for the month.
8. The weekend starters have been reliable. Nathan Dorris (4-0) and Cameron Maldonado (2-0) are undefeated and the team is a combined 8-0 in games they've started. Friday starter Cody Forsythe has yet to pick up a decision in the 2011 season, but in his last start he struck out eight batters and allowed just one run in seven innings. He looked like the pitcher who earned First Team All-MVC honors a year ago.
9. The bullpen has not allowed an earned run in six of the team's last seven games. Todd Eaton has pitched well in the closer's role. He has three saves in five opportunities and did not allow an earned run in either blown save. Tyler Dray, Aaron Snyder and Matt Murphy have all pitched important innings in relief, and their ability to succeed will be crucial to the Salukis' ability to win tight conference games.
10. Southern is just 1-3 in midweek games this season, but saw some encouraging signs this past week against Middle Tennessee. Sam Coonrod and Pete Slavonic each made their first start of the season. Coonrod tossed three shutout innings before running out of steam in the fourth. Slavonic allowed just one earned run in five innings en route to the win. Coonrod will get another start this weekend.
11. There is no way to sugarcoat the Salukis' defense this season. There are 291 teams in Division I baseball, and only one of them has committed more errors than Southern. The Salukis .939 fielding percentage ranks 277th in the nation, and they have not played an errorless game. This is definitely a concern heading toward the conference season.
12. The defensive struggles are somewhat of a surprise. The only noteworthy loss on defense from 2011 is Chris Murphy, who was an excellent defensive center fielder. Other than Murphy, the defense is basically the same as the one that finished in the middle of the pack in the MVC with a .961 fielding percentage and 79 errors last season. This year's team already has 38 errors through less than a third of the 2012 season.
Overall, it looks like a promising spring, but fulfilling that promise and producing a memorable season will depend on improved defense and the bullpen's development.