EUREKA — The Eureka baseball team played its first in-state game on Sunday since embarking on a weeklong spring break trip that included games in Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. The result was a come-from-behind 8-7 victory over Elmhurst that snapped a five-game losing streak and moved the team to 3-5 on the season.
The Red Devils are back on the road again this week, facing Monmouth in non-conference play on Wednesday at 3 p.m. and opening St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play at Webster this weekend.
The SLIAC series against the 11-time defending conference champs will begin with a single game at 3 p.m. on Saturday and conclude with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Sunday at GCS Credit Union Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois.
SPRING BREAK IN REVIEW
Eureka lost five games over spring break, but the end result didn't define how EC coach Jerry Rashid felt about his team's performance.
The Red Devils were competitive in four of the five games. Two of the three games at Sewanee were within their grasp the whole way though, while one got away completely. The Centre game was competitive for six innings, and the Hanover was competitive through five.
And EC had only played on a real baseball field once before the trip.
"From that standpoint, we're pretty pleased," Rashid said. "I thought our kids played hard and they competed well. You don't really go down thinking you're going to win five. You think you want to get better at the things you haven't been able to do, get some work on some things you haven't been able to practice, and then if you can, stay competitive in games — and we were."
The team also saw where it needed to improve most. Rashid said the Red Devils made too many errors (11) that led to too many unearned runs (12), but he doesn't expect that to be a reoccurring issue. Among the significant defensive performance on the road, however, came from shortstop Mike Redmond and catcher Grant Mullin.
Offensively, EC did a good job of putting the ball in play. The most times the team struck out in a game was six. Timely hitting was largely lacking during the trip, but it showed up in Sunday's triumph over Elmhurst.
"I thought that was a great example of the process that we started last year starting to come to fruition," Rashid said. "Last year, we might not have won that game. This year, we went ahead, fell behind, came back. It's a good tribute to the kids that they're buying in to what we're talking about."
Mullin, a senior, has had the most at-bats for the Red Devils and has the highest batting average among players with three plate appearance per game (.286). He also leads the team in doubles (three) and RBIs (eight).
Redmond, a sophomore, is next at .269 with seven hits and a team-high six walks and nine runs scored. Freshman Drew Thoele (.294) and senior Jeremy Sinople (.263) have also swung the bat well, in slightly limited opportunities.
It should be noted that the Red Devils played four games without leadoff hitter and center fielder Sean Green and three games without fellow outfielder and returning starter Braxten Ary due to minor injuries. They're healthy now, and ready for the challenging week ahead.
Although several EC pitchers got caught in jams and saw their season ERAs soar, nearly everyone in the pitching staff had their moments on the mound. They're pitching to contact and throwing strikes, with sophomore right-hander Gregory Cluskey (2-0 with a 4.41 ERA in 16 1/3 innings pitched) and freshman lefty J.D. Theile (1.69 ERA in 10 2/3 innings pitched) leading the way out of the rotation.
On Sunday, sophomore Mason Diederich picked up the team's first save of the year. That's a big deal for a team still learning to grind out tough wins.
"Our goal in the process of building a program is to be competitive, to be confident and to win games that we're in," Rashid said.
AT MONMOUTH (Wednesday, 3 p.m.)
The last time Eureka faced Monmouth, the Red Devils handed the Fighting Scots an 11-9 defeat in EC coach Jerry Rashid's home debut at Henry Sand Field, before the teams battled to a 4-4 draw that was called early due to darkness. The first game, however, was the Red Devils' first victory over Monmouth since the turn of the century.
This time around, Monmouth (9-3) will have home-field advantage in its first game of the year at Glasgow Field. The Fighting Scots opened the year with 10 games in Florida and came home with an 8-2 record — their best spring break showing since 2000. On Saturday, they split with familiar EC conference foe, MacMurray, dropping Game 1, 2-1, and taking Game 2, 5-2.
With 12 games under their belt, the Fighting Scots have a larger statistical sample size to display. The squad currently has seven players in the lineup who meet the minimum requirement of two plate appearances per game and have played 75 percent of the games. Of that group, four are batting .300 or better and two are above .400.
Senior Harry Sanchez currently leads the team with a .413 batting average and a .587 slugging percentage. He's knocked 19 hits in 46 at-bats, including four doubles and two triples. Sophomore Matt Temaner isn't far behind with a .405 batting average and a .548 slugging percentage. He also has the team's highest on-base percentage (1.076).
The Fighting Scots have a team ERA of 3.19, with senior Tyler McDonald holding opponents to a .143 batting average and striking out 30 in 20 innings pitched. Junior Conner Sharp has a 1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings.
AT WEBSTER (Saturday, 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m.)
The Red Devils are opening conference play against the team that remains the favorite in the SLIAC.
The Gorloks are currently 10-3 on the season — they open their SLIAC slate with a doubleheader at Spalding on Wednesday — and are ranked 15th in the nation. The team started the season by taking two of three from Transylvania University in February. Then, it swept Buena Vista in the Webster BSN Sports Classic and went 6-2 in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. There, Webster went 1-1 against a pair of ranked opponents, besting No. 9/No. 18 UMass 6-4 and falling to No. 8/No. 7 Concordia Chicago.
Averaging 5.2 runs per game and managing a 1.80 ERA, the Gorloks have the look of a well-rounded squad with minimal flaws.
A.J. Smith is one of the top hitters in the conference, batting .424 and slugging .667 in 33 at-bats. Nate Tholl and Ben Swords have notched a team-high 15 hits, and Aaron Hopp and Tholl are each in the top five in stolen bases in the SLIAC with nine and six, respectively.
Sean Beaver has .70 ERA in three starts — third-lowest in the conference — while striking out a tied-for-team-high 25 batters and only walking four in 25 2/3 innings pitched. Brendan May is a perfect 3-0 in three starts, recording a 1.47 ERA in 18 1/3 innings, and Adrian Santiago leads the league with three saves in seven relief appearances. He has also fanned 25 and walked four in 17 1/3 innings. The pitching staff holds a 1.80 ERA overall.