Coming off the most successful season in program history, the Illinois State University Redbirds are setting their expectations even higher this year.
Ranked no. 19 in the National Club Baseball Association Pre-Season top 20 poll, the ceiling is as high as it has ever been for a club that won its first Great Lakes South conference title in 2014. After coming within one out of capturing a regional crown and making it to the national tournament, the Redbirds are itching to get back on the diamond and get to work.
Our expectations are as high as theyve ever been, Nolan Sammer, president of the club, said. Wed like to start the year off by running the table down in Florida, and definitely winning conference again is another big goal of ours.
To achieve the success they want, they will to use the team chemistry and raw talent that has helped the program rise to new heights. The club also looks to key returning players such as All-Region centerfielder Kurt Kaufman, and All-American pitcher Jacob Quaid to help them get to the next level. Sammer says the pair will be counted on for, big production and even more for senior leadership.
The highlight of the first month of the season is the annual trip to Tampa, Fla., the second week of March. The tournament is a perfect early test of the Redbirds talent. A matchup against no. 12 Pittsburgh is the toughest game of the tournament, and it is the one these players are relishing the most.
We're really excited to play Pitt, Sammer said. We've lost close ones to them the past two years, so we really want to knock them off this year.
Chances to see the Redbirds in-person will be at a premium this season as they will be on the road for nearly every series. ISU opens the season against Robert Morris on March 5 at The Corn Crib in Normal. Its only home series of the year will be April 25-26 at ONeil Park where they are facing off against Ball State.
Another conference title is not only wanted, it is expected. Series against rivals Illinois and Indiana are crucial stops on the road to a championship. But thats not the only goal on the Birds minds. They are looking for something more to get this team on the national map.
After making a run in regionals last year, we really want to take the next step and advance to the NCBA World Series, Sammer said. Anything is possible. We just gotta get there.