Southern Illinois currently sits 26-10 this season, 4-2 against opponents in the Missouri Valley Conference. Junior Cody Cleveland said SIU has a real shot at winning the conference and vying for a college World Series bid.
“It’s one series at a time right now,” Cleveland said, “But the end goal is to get into a region because anything can happen when you get into the playoffs.”
The Dawgs are coming off an 11-4 loss to Austin Peay on Tuesday, April 20, a team they’ve struggled with this season.
“As a striker, I feel like we have to produce a lot better. I know we are going to have games like this, but we have to make sure we are always competitive,” said second Kaeber Rog.
However, before their game against the Governors, the Salukis managed to defeat two of their fiercest rivals: Southeastern Missouri State and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
In fact, SIU’s win over SEMO was their first win in a quadrant of the season. Cleveland said that particular game helped give the Salukis more confidence.
“Coming out of there with a win was great. It was also a great RPI increase for us,” Cleveland said.
The wins over SIU-E came on the weekend of April 16, where SIU defeated the Cougars by an aggregate of 11-6. Rog said the home fans really helped the SIU and gave the team an edge.
“Going to the game and seeing a crowded hill gives you energy. You want to play well for the fans,” Rog said.
According to the Salukis, it’s been like this all season. “The Hill” has been a long-time SIU staple, and they’re terrifying teams that come to Itchy Jones Stadium.
Southern Illinois is a remarkable 17-5 at home, and Cleveland credits a lot of that to the fans who come out to support their team.
“It’s such a cool atmosphere. It’s so much fun to play,” Cleveland said.
The Salukis are comfortable anywhere, in any situation, according to head coach Lance Rhodes. He said his team had done a great job all season playing under pressure.
“We’ve been playing some tight games lately, but I like the way our guys react in those kinds of situations,” Rhodes said.
Cleveland said every player did their part in the offseason to improve from last season. The team has benefited a lot from this development.
“I really enjoyed playing with those guys and I really enjoyed the team that came out this year,” Cleveland said. “I think we’ve only gotten closer, we’ve gotten better over the season.”
Rog said he has made a lot of improvements since last season. The work he has done over the past two months has helped him improve in all areas of his game.
“Coming here, the coaches told me that they needed me a lot on the offensive side. Individually, I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Rog said.
Rhodes gave his personal endorsement to players like senior Gray Epps and second Nathan Bandy. Epps was an all-or-nothing hitter. Now he managed to get to the base much more often.
“He has done a great job this year. I think the ability has always been there,” Rhodes said, “His approach has been phenomenal throughout the year.
Rog said he thrives on the success of other players around him. Players like senior JT Weber and Bandy motivated him to be better as a hitter.
“Having other players on the team who hit well helps me a lot. They motivate me to keep going, to keep hitting every day,” Rog said.
The Salukis have an important weekend ahead with a series against conference opponent Dallas Baptist. DBU currently sits at 23-13, so it should be a pretty even game.
To win this weekend, Cleveland said, SIU players just need to focus on themselves.
“They’re a talented team and they’ve shown that all year. But I think to win we just have to play our game and not focus on what they’re doing,” Cleveland said.
With about a month remaining in the regular season, Rog said the goal is to stay consistent.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. We have to continue to trust the pitchers, our offense and our defense. If we do that, everything will be fine,” Rog said.
Last season, the Salukis went 40-20 during the regular season. Rog said 40 wins was now the norm for this team.
“We hope to win 40 games. This is expected in the locker room,” Rog said. “Some games we didn’t participate in enough, but most of the time we play well and work well as a team.”
Cleveland said a major factor in SIU’s success going forward will be everyone’s willingness to be on the same page and support its goals. From the team, to the fans, to the athletic department.
“If everyone buys and pulls in the same direction, it makes the game so much easier and it makes it so much more fun,” Cleveland said.
Sports reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at cdaily_de. To stay up to date on all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter