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2019 Season Preview: Cougars Exude Optimism, Seek OVC Improvement

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SIUE vs. UAB

Fri., Feb 15-Sun., Feb. 17
Birmingham, Alabama
Live Stats: SIUEStats.com

Weekend Pitching Matchups:
Game 1: SIUE RHP Collin Baumgartner vs. UAB RHP Alex Pondick
Game 2: SIUE LHP Cameron Prayer vs. UAB RBP Tyler Gates
Game 3: SIUE LHP David Llorens vs. UAB RHP Tanner Rusk

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Plenty of positive vibrations are swirling around the SIUE baseball team this spring. Take it from third-year Head Coach Sean Lyons.

"We're cautiously optimistic about the season," said Lyons, whose Cougars open play Friday at UAB. "We feel good about a lot of things, especially with our pitching. We have a little more pitching depth than we have had in the past."

Catcher/designated hitter Brock Weimer, outfielder Dustin Woodcock and pitchers Kenny Serwa and Collin Baumgartner, among others, could serve as pivotal players in a projected upswing, Lyons said.

SIUE is striving for major improvement this season after posting a 15-37 record in 2018 and going 6-24 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Cougars were 23-29 overall and 11-19 in 2017, Lyons' first year at the helm.

"Our main focus is to really make strides in the league," Lyons said. "We need to move ourselves up into the pack, and we want to get the program to the point where we can contend for the OVC title."

He added, "We have our work cut out for us, but we feel confident in what we are doing. We feel we are going in the right direction."

 The Cougars play three weekend games in Birmingham, Alabama, against UAB and then travel to Louisiana-Monroe Feb. 22-24 for another weekend series.

"It's a good test for us out of the gate," Lyons said, "because we are playing two quality opponents."

SIUE is slated to debut at home against UIC March 1. It's a four-game weekend series at Simmons Baseball Complex.

"We have scheduled 26 home games, the most we have had in three years," Lyons said. "Overall, it's a tough, challenging schedule."

SIUE's nonconference home schedule also includes choice dates with Illinois State (March 13), Saint Louis (March 26), Missouri (April 9) and Western Illinois (April 16). Key nonconference road dates feature Kentucky (March 12), SIU Carbondale (March 19), Evansville (March 27), Bradley (April 3), Western Illinois (April 23) and Saint Louis (April 30).

Then there's the 30-game Ohio Valley Conference schedule, plus the league tournament, set for Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois (May 21-26). SIUE is angling for its first winning season since 2011 when the Cougars posted a 28-24 record.

Morehead State is cast as the OVC favorite, while defending champion Tennessee Tech also figures to be in the hunt. SIUE was picked 10th in the 11-team OVC, though the Cougars stock could rise if their offense percolates.

"Offensively, we have to ability to do different things," Lyons said. "We are more athletic all the way through our lineup."

He's angling for more power and punch from a team that batted .245 in 52 games last season.

Weimer, a senior, is a good place to begin regenerating the SIUE attack. The Edwardsville, Illinois product batted .275 with 50 hits, including 12 doubles and eight home runs in 2018. He also drove in 37 runs.

"Offensively, Brock is as good as anybody in the league," Lyons said.

Woodcock, a left-handed hitting redshirt senior outfielder from Jacksonville, Illinois, returns to the lineup after missing all but one game last season after sustaining an oblique strain. In 2017, he hit .330 with 14 doubles and 42 RBIs.

"Dustin is one of the better hitters in the league, and we expect him to hit in the No. 3 spot for us," Lyons said of the right fielder.

Weimer will be more of a designated hitter, though he will share some catching duties with sophomore Steven Pattan of Alton, Illinois. "Steven is strong defensively and will be our No. 1 catcher," Lyons said.

Peyton Cordova-Smith is cast as first base, though the left-handed junior could divide time with junior Justin Perkins, a transfer from Jefferson Community College in Hillsboro, Missouri.

Perkins also can play second base as can freshmen Brendan Ryan and Brady Bunten. Senior Jordan Ross figures to start at shortstop with Ryan also sharing some time there. Raul Elguezabal, a junior transfer from Jefferson Community College, is set to play third base.

"We have a lot of middle infielders, and that's where our depth comes into play," Lyons said.

The outfield features Woodcock in left, freshman Jack Rigoni in center field and redshirt junior Eric Giltz, senior Bret Fehr and Bunten logging time in right field.

"Rigoni is an elite defender, and it's not a surprise he's starting," Lyons said. "He has speed and a lot of intangibles."

Garrett Carmichael, Aaron Goecks and Brett Pierson all can fill in on the infield, while Jackson Layton and Goecks are considered key reserve outfielders. Jackson Caley and Dylan Hildebrand can work in behind the plate.

The pitching staff has undergone some changes. Relief ace Mason McReaken signed with the Atlanta Braves, while prominent starters Nelson Martz and Brock Fulkerson have departed. They were seniors last season.

Serwa, who pitched in 14 games and pitched 85 innings in 2018, likely will anchor the starting rotation. Collin Baumgartner, a 6-foot, 6-inch sophomore from Brighton, Illinois, will be right behind him, Lyons said.

"Kenny was very consistent last season, and he threw more than 80 innings, the most on the team," Lyons said. "Collin got his feet wet last season. He began in the bullpen and then progressed to a starter. He gained a lot of confidence."

Lefties David Llorens and Cameron Prayer, a freshman, also are part of the revamped SIUE rotation.

Lyons has Braydon Bone and Cole Milam set to take over for McReaken in closing duties. Freshman Adam Drewry of O'Fallon, Illinois, senior Chris Robinson of Glen Carbon, Illinois, junior Tyler Hutchinson of Sorento, Illinois, freshman lefty Blake Struble of Carrollton, Illinois, plus left-hander Ryan Byrd add depth, as do lefty Michael Shereyk and right-handers Brian Chandler and Danny Ehrsam.

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