CARBONDALE — SIU's new baseball coach could return the entire weekend starting rotation from the 2018 squad, albeit one that finished last in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Lefty Brady Harrison (3-1, 3.05 ERA), the projected Friday night starter before the season, made only eight appearances because of an arm injury. Harrison wasn't drafted, so the 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior could be a great piece for Ken Henderson's successor to build around.
Henderson and SIU "parted ways" after nine seasons, according to a joint statement from him and the athletic department Monday.
Mason Hiser, a 6-foot, 175-pound righty, started 14 games this past season and went 4-4 with a 4.79 ERA. With Harrison out, Hiser moved into the Friday night slot and could bring some much-needed experience on the mound.
The Salukis could also return sophomore lefty Blake Begner (6-7, 6.01 ERA) and 6-5, 235-pound junior righty Dylan Givens (3-6, 6.02 ERA). Givens made some mid-week starts but moved into the weekend rotation late in the year. SIU also returns the bulk of its bullpen, including saves leader Trey McDaniel, Sam Grace (21 appearances), Noah Farmer and Corey Mitson. It is unclear what honorable mention all-conference reliever Justin Yeager, a late-round pick of the Atlanta Braves this week, will do for 2020. Yeager could sign with the Braves or return for his senior year and try to get drafted even higher.
Six position starters could return, including three of the team's top-four hitters.
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"I always say to every coach I've ever talked to, 'If you can get into the top four or the top five, you got a chance to win,'" SIU athletic director Jerry Kill said. "I said from the very start we want to be the best we can be in every sport. We gotta win."
The new coach will also not have to travel to the MVC tournament. SIU won the bid to host the 2020 event at Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium from May 19 – 23. It will be the first time since 1986 the tournament will be in Carbondale.
The Salukis also hosted the MVC tournament in 1984. SIU completed a $4.2 million renovation of the old Abe Martin Field in 2014 and dedicated it to Hall of Fame coach Jones. Jones won 738 games at SIU and guided the Salukis to three College World Series appearances.
SIU fans may take some solace in Illinois State's turnaround this year under a first-year head coach. Steve Holm, the MVC coach of the year this year, led the Redbirds to a share of the conference regular-season title with Dallas Baptist and a 36-26 mark. It was only Illinois State's third regular-season conference title in school history.
The Redbirds received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and reached the regional final in Louisville before falling 4-3 to the Cardinals.