By Greg Halbleib
NORMAL – Illinois State baseball finished at the bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference last year with an extremely young team, and is picked to finish a little better this season as that youth gains experience.
Valley coaches picked the Redbirds to finish fifth in the eight-team league.
Redbird coach Bo Durkac said his team is still young, but now more experienced.
“We knew going into the season it was going to be a rough year in terms of wins and losses, but we were building for the future,” Durkac said. “As long as we continue to run those guys out there and they stay healthy, they get stronger and their mental game stays sharp, then we’ve got a chance to really build on what we did last year and take it into this year and get off to a good start.”
Durkac praised the way the Redbirds approached the offseason.
“Starting off on January 15, our first practice, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see how well we looked compared to years past,” Durkac said. “I think that’s a sign of the culture we’ve created here. Guys have really bought into what we’re doing here and there’s a lot of hunger with this team.”
Redbird pitcher Brady Huffman said the lumps the team took last year will simply make them better this year.
“To go through a season like last year as a (pitching) staff and being really young and not winning a whole lot and then coming into the final weekend and the last tournament, we showed signs we can pitch really well and at a high level,” Huffman said. “Carrying that into this year, I think that we now have confidence, now we have fire, and we think we can do this and we will do this.”
Illinois State baseball opens the season with a three-game series at Arkansas State beginning in two weeks. The non-conference schedule also includes a trip to Washington and Hawaii over spring break.
Greg Halbleib can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.