Salukis open season Friday at Western Kentucky

    Senior Todd Eaton will make his first career Opening Day start.

    Senior Todd Eaton will make his first career Opening Day start.
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    Feb. 13, 2014

    Southern Illinois (0-0) vs. Western Kentucky (0-0)
     Date Friday, Feb. 14-Sunday, Feb. 16
     Time Friday - 3 p.m., Saturday - 2 p.m., Sunday - 1 p.m. (All times Central)
     Location Nick Denes Field - Bowling Green, Ky. 
     Probables Fri. - RHP Todd Eaton (SIU) vs. RHP Justin Hageman (WKU)
    Sat. - RHP Sam Coonrod (SIU) vs. LHP Austin Clay (WKU)
    Sun. - LHP Aaron Hauge (SIU) vs. RHP Jack Thompson (WKU)
     Radio Sunday - 105.1 WVZA-FM and streaming live on Saluki All-Access.
     Video None
     Game Notes Southern Illinois Get Acrobat Reader | Western Kentucky Get Acrobat Reader
     Live Stats Friday | Saturday | Sunday
     2013 Stats Southern Illinois | Western Kentucky | MVC
     Social Media @SIU_Baseball  | @SIU_Baseball  | Saluki Athletics 

    LEADING OFF The Southern Illinois baseball team will open its 70th season of play with a three-game series at Western Kentucky beginning Friday, Feb. 14 at 3 p.m. 

    FRIDAY’S STARTER Senior Todd Eaton will make his fourth career start and his first Opening Day start. The converted closer is second on SIU’s all-time list with 19 career saves and will make his first start since March 13, 2011. He is 1-2 with an 8.78 ERA in three career starts, all coming during his freshman season. Over the past two years, he is 4-3 with a 2.88 ERA and 18 saves.

    WESTERN KENTUCKY SERIES NOTES Southern Illinois leads the all-time series by a 25-10 margin and split last year’s snow-shortened two-game series with the Hilltoppers in Carbondale. After a 21-year hiatus, the two teams renewed their rivalry in 2012. The Salukis are 3-2 against WKU in the Ken Henderson era and took two of three in Bowling Green in 2012.

    SCOUTING THE HILLTOPPERS Western Kentucky is picked to finish sixth out of 10 teams in the Sun Belt Conference’s preseason poll. The Hilltoppers finished 28-29 overall and fifth in the Sun Belt with a 16-14 conference mark in 2013. They return two of three starting pitchers and four starting position players. Outfielder Regan Flaherty, utility player Scott Wilcox and reliever Ian Tompkins were all named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Team.

    PRESEASON ALL-MVC Senior shortstop Jake Welch was named to the 2014 Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference Team. He hit .317 as a junior in 2013 and finished third in the Valley with 51 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.  He hit .333 in conference play, which ranks fifth among all returning MVC hitters. In addition, Welch tied for the overall team lead with 79 hits, which ranked fourth in the conference.

    OPENING DAY NOTES Last year SIU broke a streak of three-straight Opening Day losses with a 5-4 win at UAB. The Salukis have won two out of three games on their opening weekend in two of the last three seasons. Southern is 31-38 all-time on Opening Day. It is the sixth consecutive year that SIU is opening the season on the road. The last time SIU opened the season with three straight victories was 1979. Of the 14 seasons in which SIU has made the NCAA Tournament, the Salukis started 10 of those years with two or more wins in their first three games.

    TOP 100 PROSPECTS Earlier this week, Perfect Game ranked starting pitcher Todd Eaton No. 74 in the nation on its list of the top 100 seniors in college baseball. Sam Coonrod was ranked No. 42 in the nation on Perfect Game’s list of the top 100 juniors in college baseball.

    SATURDAY, SUNDAY STARTERS On Saturday, Sam Coonrod will make his first start of the season. The junior was 3-6 with a 4.29 ERA in 15 starts in 2013. He pitched this summer for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League. Baseball America has ranked the hard-throwing righty as one of the top 50 junior prospects in the nation. Junior Aaron Hauge will make his Saluki debut on Sunday. The southpaw redshirted last year after transferring to SIU from Heartland (Ill.) Community College. In two seasons at Heartland, he posted a 20-3 record and a 2.42 ERA with 197 strikeouts in 145 1/3 innings.

    WELCH APPROACHING RECORDS Jake Welch enters the season within striking distance of becoming SIU’s all-time leader in career hits and at-bats. The Saluki leadoff hitter begins his senior campaign with 202 career hits. That puts him 84 hits shy of SIU’s hit king, Joe Schley, who was inducted into the Saluki Hall of Fame earlier this month. Welch set a career high with 79 hits in 2013. Welch’s 681 career at-bats puts him 212 at-bats behind SIU’s all-time leader, Kevin Koski, who had 893 at-bats in his career.Welch had 249 at-bats in 2013, which is the second-highest single-season total in school history.

    FULL ROSTER For the first time in Ken Henderson’s tenure as head coach at SIU, the Salukis will open the season with a full 35-man roster, thanks to 18 newcomers on the team. The roster includes 18 pitchers, seven more than when the Salukis opened the season with an 11-man pitching staff in Henderson’s first year as head coach in 2011.

    NEW HOME Southern Illinois will play its home games at new Richard “Itchy” Jones Stadium. The facility is being named in honor of SIU’s all-time winningest coach thanks to a $4 million renovation at the site of Abe Martin Field. SIU is scheduled to open the new facility with a three-game series against Northern Illinois Feb. 28-March 2. The stadium features a new AstroTurf playing surface, the installation of stadium lights and new dugouts along with a new press box, seating bowl and concession area.

    LOOKING AHEAD Southern Illinois will be on the road to face Austin Peay on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 3:30 p.m. Next weekend, Feb. 21-23, the Dawgs will compete in the Carmel Inn Showdown, hosted by Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La. There the Salukis will face Western Illinois, Nicholls State and Louisana Monroe.