Notebook: Red Devils to Open Much-Anticipated Season in Jacksonville

Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.
JACKSONVILLE, Ill. — After a long winter, second-year Eureka baseball coach Jerry Rashid and the Red Devils are ready for spring to begin. 
 
EC will open its 2019 campaign Friday with a pair of non-conference contests against Northland at the neutral site of Lenz Field in Jacksonville, Ill. at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. 
 
 
RETURNING FOUNDATION 
The Red Devils are aiming to reach .500 this year for the first time in program history. In Year 2 of the Rashid era, they're looking to build off their first 14-win season since 2010.
 
With 18 returning letterwinners, six position players who have starting experience and five key pitchers, Rashid believes the Red Devils have the right mix of proven talent and promising newcomers to move the program forward. 
 
"It's a process of trying to get better," he said. "These guys started last year with the process, and they've bought in and continued to work hard to try to make history for this program." 
 
You can find the bulk of EC's experience by looking up the middle.  The Red Devils return senior center fielder Sean Green, sophomore shortstop Mike Redmond, junior second baseman Jake Carter and senior catcher Grant Mullin
 
"That's always a good thing to have coming back – if they had good years," Rashid said. "And all four did a good job last year, so we're fortunate."
 
Green, a Third Team All-SLIAC selection as a junior, led the Red Devils in nine offensive categories and ranked third in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a .488 on-base percentage in 21 conference appearances. On the season, the Peoria native batted .384, slugged .586 and recorded a .492 on-base percentage – and only committed one error all spring. 
 
Junior left fielder Braxten Ary was one of only two Red Devils to record 30 hits last season, notching 33 while hitting .297 and stealing nine bases.
The next most productive returning bat belongs to senior left-handed pitcher/right fielder Joe Quinn. When he wasn't on the mound, Quinn batted .286 in in 78 plate appearances as a junior. Mullin, meanwhile, hit .274 while driving in a team-high 26 runs, leading the team with six home runs and tying with Green for most doubles (eight). 
 
Carter, who made 31 appearances last year,  has the highest returning on-base percentage of anyone aside from Green (.393).  
 
Rashid says there's going to be competition on the corners. For now, senior Thomas Harrison has emerged as the best glove at first, and there are up to four players in the hunt for the starting job at third.
 
Four players who saw extensive time on the mound return to the Red Devils' pitching staff this spring, including three projected starters in junior Kyle Cashdollar, sophomore Gregory Cluskey and Quinn. 
 
Cluskey logged the most innings of any EC player last year, recording a 3.56 ERA in six starts and seven relief appearances over 43 innings. As a freshman, he led the team with 35 strikeouts and three wins — and conceded the second-fewest walks on team (14).  Cashdollar had the lowest ERA of any regular. The Morton native recorded a 3.34 ERA in 29.2 innings of work while only walking eight. Quinn, a lefty, had a 3.98 ERA in 31.2 innings, and relievers Mason Diederich (3.95 ERA in 27.1 innings) and Brandon Porter (3.09 ERA in 11.2 innings) both finished under a 4.00 ERA as well. 
 
A trio of freshmen are vying for starting spots in the rotation, with lefty J.D. Theile leading the way and right-handers Brock Pettit and Isaiah Davis in the mix as well.
 
"They're strike-throwers," Rashid said. "They locate the ball very well. They're competitive and they pitch to contact. We like the makeup of the staff."
 
PRESEASON SLIAC POLL
Eureka College was voted to finish fourth in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference West Division this spring, according to an announcement from the league office in January. 
 
In the West, Webster led the way with 45 points, while Fontbonne and Westminster followed with 32 and 28, respectively. Eureka tallied 18 points and Iowa Wesleyan had 13. Spalding notched a division-high 44 points in the East. Greenville was just four points behind with 38, while MacMurray (21), Principia (17) and Blacburn (13) rounded out the group.
 
Eureka will play a three-game series against its four West Division foes and a doubleheader against the five East Division opponents for a total of 22 conference games. The top two teams in each division will qualify for the league's annual double-elimination tournament scheduled for May 9-11 at Robert E. Smith Field in Greenville, Ill.
 
VS. NORTHLAND (Friday, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.)
 
Unlike the Red Devils, the Lumberjacks have a weekend of games under their belt after a four-game series against Iowa Wesleyan that saw a little bit of everything. On Feb. 23, they picked up a 14-5 victory over the Tigers, then tied 5-5 due to inclement weather. The next day,  Iowa Wesleyan came back after giving up 19 runs in the first four innings and handed Northland a 28-20 loss, and followed it with an 18-7 win. 
 
A member of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, Northland went 10-24 last season and 9-7 in conference action to place fourth in the league standings and qualify for the UMAC Tournament.  Northland was picked to finish sixth out of nine teams by UMAC coaches in this year's preseason poll.  The Lumberjacks are coached by first-year skipper Ryan Jerle, who came to Northland after eight seasons at Northern State.