J.T. Weber called it another year as a Division I player and more maturity at the plate. You can call the Metropolis native's start dangerous to others.
Weber was already leading the Salukis (21-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley Conference) in home runs heading into the final game of their four-game series against Illinois State Sunday. Then he hit two out. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior was fifth on the team in RBIs until he tied a school record with eight in SIU's 14-11 loss to the Redbirds at Jones Stadium.
"Just growing as a player and as a hitter," Weber said. "This is my fourth year as a player at Division I. It just comes with age a little bit. I've been around the park a while, so, just maturing as a hitter."
Weber finished the series against Illinois State 5 for 16 with three extra-base hits, two of them home runs on Sunday. Weber's grand slam in the fifth cut the Redbirds' lead to 8-4, but SIU's pitching ultimately couldn't keep it in the game.
Weber did his best to keep the Salukis afloat.
"I don't think he did anything dramatic with his swing," SIU coach Lance Rhodes said. "He's just a year more mature, offensively. He's an older player, has good bat-to-ball skills and when you can find the barrel like he's doing, you can do some damage."
Weber drove in three more runs in SIU's 15-0 demolishing of Austin Peay Tuesday night, finishing the game 2 for 4. His 33 RBIs this season lead the Valley, as do his 10 home runs. Last spring, in the Salukis' abbreviated 18-game season, Weber didn't hit a single ball out in 69 at-bats.
Now he's got 10 round-trippers, the seventh-most in the country, in 99 at-bats entering Saturday's doubleheader against Bellarmine and Northern Illinois. After Friday's game that was scheduled against Bellarmine was canceled due to inclement weather, the Salukis will now open their three-team weekend at 2 p.m.
Offense has been one of SIU's biggest calling cards this season. The Salukis' 45 home runs rank fourth in the country out of 287 teams. They are second in the country in runs (238), second in sacrifice flies (18), fourth in batting (.319) and fourth in slugging percentage (.537). SIU's on-base percentage (.420) is sixth-best in the country.
The Salukis have scored twice as many runs as their opponent 16 times in 27 games so far. At one point this season they did it in seven straight games.
Weber could also take some credit for Tuesday's win over the Govs on the mound, as he helped recruit the winning pitcher. Fellow Patriot Noah Farmer (3-1, 4.30 ERA) played with Weber in high school, and, along with another Saluki, Grey Epps, with the Nashville Knights summer team. Weber was the first to sign with SIU, followed by Franklin and Epps.
Weber looked at some schools in the Ohio Valley Conference, he said, but didn't waste any time the first day of his junior year.
"It just felt right," Weber said. "It just felt at home, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU Athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.