With three Redbirds being named All-Missouri Valley Conference selections late last month — as voted by Valley coaches — the Illinois State baseball team is gearing up for its 2014 season. Starting pitcher Dan Savas, infielder Brock Stewart and closer Jeremy Rhoades each received the conference accolades in the Jan. 29 announcement, amidst preparation for the start of the season which will kick off this Friday at Murray State. Head coach Mark Kingston was reminiscent of the 2013 season and beyond.
“I think last year was significant for a lot of reasons. Number one, we’re very proud of the history our program has going back to the ‘69 National Championship team, back to 1994 to the first Missouri Valley Conference Championship and you go onto 2013, we’re very proud of the tradition,” Kingston said. “Our goal this year is to continue to build on that. We think we have the kind of team that should be right there in the mix to win a championship again … We just want to continue to add another great chapter to this great baseball program.”
The ISU baseball team was selected to finish third in the MVC, garnering 46 total points, behind Wichita State (56 points) and Missouri State (55). They came out ahead of Dallas Baptist (44), and definitively ahead of Evansville (25), Indiana State (23) and Bradley (11). The Shockers are coming off a 39-28 (15-6 MVC) season in 2013, having won their 18th MVC baseball championship after defeating the Redbirds 5-2. The ’Birds finished first in the MVC outright, boasting a 16-5 record in the conference and going 39-19 on the season.
Savas made 15 starts for ISU last season, throwing a perfect 10-0 with a 1.79 ERA. The Rosemont native was named a Louisville Slugger preseason All-American earlier this month and tied for the team-lead with MVC Pitcher of the Year, and current Milwaukee Brewers prospect, Chris Razo, for his performance last year. In 100.1 innings pitched, Savas boasted 98 Ks and held his opponents to a .180 batting average-against, which earned him All-Missouri Valley Conference honors.
“I think Dan showed a lot of what he’s made of last year. He had a tough Fall, and still working on things in terms of his mechanics. Not going into the season knowing what he would have, he started our opening weekend as our Sunday starter and he just got better every week,” Kingston said. “Having the kind of season he had, we don’t win the championship last year without Dan having that type of season. And my goal for Dan this season is that he continues to stay focused, work hard and be even better. I just want him to continue to stay hungry, master his craft and have another tremendous year.”
The home turf of Duffy Bass Field will host 26 regular season games. Redbird baseball is coming off of its best regular season since the program began in 1890. The team won the MVC outright for its first time ever, and snatched a program-best 39 games. They also sealed an MVC record eight first-team all-Valley selections for their success. Savas and Rhoades will return along with 12 other pitchers, amidst 20 returning lettermen, with eight position players returning. Eleven newcomers will join the Redbirds’ squad.
Kingston returns for his fifth year at the helm with a record of 101-61 at ISU and overall. He attributed his success as a coach to not only great players, but the continuity of his coaching staff:
“It’s extremely important — I’ve got a great staff with a great amount of trust between them and myself. I’ve known coach Durkac who is our recruiting coordinator since 1991 … I know how committed he is to his job,” Kingston said. “Billy Mohl, our pitching coach, I recruited out of high school … I watched him grow up so he knows exactly what my expectations are. Mike Current, who was here when I got here, just blew me away with attention to detail and organizational skills. I’m very fortunate in the coaching staff that I have. One of the reasons we’ve had such great success is that we’ve had great players and we’ve been able to teach them consistently because of our coaching staff.”
ISU baseball will open its 2014 season at 2 p.m. on Friday at Murray State in Murray, Ky.