February 16, 2011

Cougars Prepare for 2011 Season

Feb. 16, 2011

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - All any team wants when it takes the field is a chance. SIUE baseball Coach Gary Collins believes this year Cougar baseball has a better chance for more success and for a variety of reasons.

One of the biggest reasons Collins cites is SIUE's schedule, and specifically, the home schedule.

"It's a very fair schedule," Collins said. "It's the best schedule we've had in the transition period. It's comparable to the schedules we had at Division II."

The Cougars 56-game schedule features 27 games at SimmonsCooper Complex. The 27 home contests are more than the Cougars have played, combined, over the last two years. In 2010 SIUE finished 9-4 in 13 home games.





"We have a tremendous group of hard-working, good character kids. They are a lot of fun to coach. The program is going to be rewarded."
Associate Head Coach Tony Stoecklin


On the home schedule, the Cougars will host five Ohio Valley Conference series beginning with Tennessee Tech March 25-27. SIUE also hosts Morehead State April 1-3, Austin Peay April 23-24, Eastern Illinois May 14-15, and Eastern Kentucky in a season-ending series May 20-21.

While Collins, who will begin his 33rd year as the Cougars Head Coach, insists no game on this year's schedule means more than any other, he admits to wanting to do well against OVC opponents.

"Those are the people we need to beat," Collins said of the OVC schools. "Those are the ones we need to do well against."

Collins also believes the OVC and SIUE are a good mix.

"Right now it's a really good fit," Collins said. "We certainly have some of the best facilities in the Ohio Valley, and we keep improving ours."

Of several improvements to the Cougars home, one will be most evident. When SIUE takes the field in 2011 it will be on a brand new surface. Astro turf is being installed on the infield in time for the start of the season.

"Practice time is the biggest advantage," Collins said. "We didn't lose many games (to weather) here last year. We haven't lost many the last several years. We just could never get out there when the field was freezing and thawing. It will help us out with earlier practices and just better practice conditions."

Collins likes the makeup of his 2011 team and believes that is another reason the Cougars have a chance for more success this season.

"We don't have a lot of players on this team, which I really like," Collins said. "There's going to be competition, but there's not so many that they're not going to get playing time."

"Obviously there are some places we can improve," Collins continued. "This team is better than last year's team, which was better than the team the year before. We're young."

The 2011 Cougars are, in fact, quite young. SIUE doesn't have a senior position player on the roster. Three pitchers, Spencer Patton, Josh Malin, and Kyle Dodson are the only seniors on the roster. With just seven juniors on the roster, more than half of the Cougars' players are underclassmen. A point not lost on Collins.

"Look at the infield, we'll have three sophomores and a freshman on the infield," Collins said. "We'll have a freshman behind the plate half the time. We'll have freshmen and sophomores in the outfield at times."

The Cougar infield could feature four players new to the position, including two freshmen. Junior Brett Keeler (Munster) and freshman Brian Sipe (Mt. Vernon) will likely split time behind home plate.

"He has two years of experience under his belt," Collins said of Keeler, who played 27 games behind the plate last year. "His catching has gotten better. He's to the point where he's solid behind the plate. And he's working hard at getting better."

Keeler committed just two errors in 196 chances last season.

"Brian's an athletic guy. He runs well and receives well," Collins said of the freshman. "He's a nice looking hitter, and he will run the bases. He's going to get plenty of playing time."

Freshman Luke Partridge (Anna), who redshirted last year, also is a possible catcher off the bench. Partridge could serve as a backup behind the plate or on the infield.

"He might get some time at the plate," Collins said of Partridge. "His left-handed swing is coming around."

Sophomore Joel Greatting (Columbia) will make the bulk of the starts at first for the Cougars. Greatting appeared in 43 games as a freshman, but just 17 of those were at first base.

"Joel will be our first baseman and a middle of the order hitter," Collins said. "We need production out of Joel. His play at first will be improved from last year."

Greatting hit .260 last season and finished tied for third on the team with 32 RBIs.

"He's got a little sock in his bat. He's going to be a real solid hitter," Collins said.

Fellow sophomore James Vazquez (Crystal Lake) is the one player that will be in a familiar spot. Vazquez will be the primary second baseman after playing 42 games at the position last year.

"I think James will be even better this year-both defensively and offensively," Collins said. "And he was good as a freshman."

Sophomore Matt Highland (Kankakee) shifts from shortstop, where he played 33 games last year, to third base where he played just once as a freshman.

"It's obviously a new position for him," Collins said of Highland. "He proved he could hit at this level. He can field."

Highland was seventh on the team with a .295 average as a freshman.

Freshman Chase Green (Effingham) will play up the middle this year for SIUE. Green is a highly-touted member of the Cougars' freshmen class.

"You can pencil him in for 56 games at shortstop," Collins said of Green, who was a three-time All-Area and All-Conference selection at Effingham High School. "I think he'll play all four years there. He's going to anchor our infield for four years."

Junior Zach Hawkins (Pinckneyville) will begin the year as the team's designated hitter but has experience on the infield as well.

"Zach has all the tools," Collins said about Hawkins, who played 36 games at third base last season. "Zach is a backup at third and first, but he'll start off as the DH. He brings a productive bat.

Junior Mitch Matecki (Millstadt) will lead the Cougars' outfield, moving from left field to center field. Matecki played 43 games in the outfield as a sophomore. Matecki played 25 games in center in 2009, following an injury to Adam Eggemeyer.

"Mitch played there when Eggy got hurt and played it well," Collins said. "He's continued to improve."

Matecki was fourth on the team, among regulars, with a .298 batting average in 2010. He was second on the team with 33 RBIs and led the team with 11 stolen bases in 16 attempts.

"He'll play center field, and he'll be a real solid middle of the order guy," Collins said. "He's just a good Division I player."

Thad Hawkins (Pinckneyville) will return in right field for the Cougars where he played 31 games last season.

"Thad is healthy for probably the first full season he's been here. He's finally back to 100 percent," Collins said. "Thad's a guy who could be a real key player for us."

Collins didn't rule out that Hawkins, who pitched in five games as a freshman in 2008, could see some time on the mound for the Cougars.

"He just lacks consistency," Collins said of Hawkins' pitching. "He'll probably see some time on the mound."

Sophomore Travis Becherer will patrol left field for the Cougars. Collins believes Becherer, who appeared in 29 games last year for the Cougars, will be improved over last year.

"Travis had a great summer last year after a bad start here his freshman year," Collins said. "He made some adjustments. At the end of the year last spring he started showing some signs of being that player we thought he would be."

Becherer enjoyed a strong summer campaign, playing in a pair of collegiate leagues.

"He really started putting his game together. He's goes and gets the ball as good as anybody on the team. He'll be our primary left fielder and probably our leadoff hitter."

A pair of freshmen, Devin Caldwell (Cottage Hills) and Mike Swinnen (Mt. Vernon), will provide support off the bench in the outfield.

Collins believes Caldwell could hit his way into the everyday lineup.

"This kid can flat out hit," he said. "If I had to rate our hitters, I might say he's the best hitter on the team right now."

"He's going to get a lot of playing time," Collins added. "By halfway through the season, he may just be hitting third. He's that sound of a hitter."

Collins said Swinnen is versatile enough that he could also be a backup infielder.

Eleven pitchers make up the staff for Associate Head Coach Tony Stoecklin who is proud of the group he has.

"They are a tremendous, hard-working group," Stoecklin said. "They are extremely competitive. Every day at practice they have come out and worked hard. They do everything they possibly can to try and make themselves better."

Seniors Spencer Patton (Kinmundy) and Josh Malin (St. Louis) and junior Dustin Quattrocchi (Wheaton) will anchor the rotation for the Cougars.

Patton, a right-hander, has 92 strikeouts in 84.1 innings of work as a Cougar. He is also coming off a season shortened by a knee injury.

"Number one is to make sure he's healthy," Stoecklin said. "He has a tremendous arm with great stuff. If he can stay healthy and put it all together, he can be dominant."

Malin, a right-hander, was third on last year's team with a 6.75 earned run average. Stoecklin believes he is on the right track.

"Josh got off to a slow start last year," Stoecklin said. "The second half of the season, if you break his numbers down, is about as good as you can pitch."

"We'd like to see him start right where he left off last spring and build from there," Stoecklin continued. "If he does that, he'll have a shot to be a quality weekend starter."

Quattrocchi, a left-hander, has led the team in ERA in each of his first two seasons. Last year he also led the team in wins (four), innings (62.1) and saves (two). He was second in strikeouts with 54.

"We're expecting Dustin to come in and be a staple for us on the weekends," Stoecklin said. "We expect him, again, to be one of our top pitchers."

Freshmen right-handers Ryan Daniels (St. Louis) and Travis Felax (Troy) will both have the opportunity to start games for the Cougars in 2011.

"Ryan has all the tools to be an extremely successful pitcher at the Division I level," Stoecklin said of Daniels. "I mean all of them: size, arm speed, command of his delivery, and he competes. He has the full package."

"Travis has a tremendous amount of upside, too," Stoecklin said of Felax. "He is big and strong and competes well."

Junior Josh Hoguet (Fairview Heights) will likely be the arm Stoecklin turns to in relief.

"Josh made a lot of strides over the past two years," Stoecklin said. "He's going to have an opportunity to be the first guy out of the pen."

Hoguet was the Cougars' primary mid-week starter in 2010, a role usually reserved for an underclassman. The right-hander was 3-2 in 18 appearances, including six starts. He was second on the team with 59 innings pitched last year, notching a team-best 56 strikeouts.

"He'll probably get some starts along the way," Stoecklin said. "He can push somebody."

Senior lefty Kyle Dodson (Brimfield) and right-hander Brian Lorenz (LaGrange) also will figure prominently out of the Cougars' bullpen.

"Kyle has thrown the ball really well so far this spring," Stoecklin said of Dodson. "He's probably been as impressive as anyone so far."

Stoecklin admits health has been a question in the past with Dodson.

"He'll throw great one outing, and then he may not be able to throw the ball again for two weeks," Stoecklin said. "As for right now, he's healthy and he's throwing the ball extremely well."

"Brian had a great summer," Stoecklin said. "He's made a lot of progress over the past year. We expect him to step up and help us out."

A trio of sophomores will round out the staff for Stoecklin and SIUE.

Left-handers Tony Schaeffer (Carlyle) and Luke Ingersoll (Savana) and right-hander Jake Stauffenberg will all compete for time out of the pen.

Schaeffer made 15 appearances as a freshman, making seven starts.

"Tony has really good stuff as well," Stoecklin said. "He's improved his breaking ball. His changeup has gotten better. He's worked hard on being consistent with his delivery. He just needs to put it together and actually do it on the mound."

Ingersoll appeared 16 times, making a pair of starts.

"He has really good stuff," Stoecklin said about Ingersoll. "Towards the end of the year last year he had some really good outings."

Stauffenberg managed just six appearances last year, earning a medical redshirt after an arm injury.

"We're not sure what to expect with him coming off an injury," Stoecklin said. "He's shown some flashes this spring that the arm strength is coming back."

Despite quality arms from both sides available in the bullpen, Stoecklin admits he hasn't settled on anyone to close games for the Cougars.

"I think that role is still not defined," he said. "We don't have a person that I would say, `that's our closer.'"

"I think that is something that will figure itself out through the course of the season," Stoecklin added. "I'd just like to be in some situations where we need a closer this year."

Stoecklin, like Collins, likes the makeup of his staff and the team as a whole. Stoecklin believes the program is moving in the right direction and good things are to come.

"We have a tremendous group of hard-working, good character kids," he said of the Cougars. "They are a lot of fun to coach. The program is going to be rewarded."

The Cougars begin the 2011 season Friday when they begin a three-game series at Central Arkansas. SIUE play its first home game Fri., March 11, when Chicago State comes to SimmonsCooper Complex.