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These are supposed to be the dog days of summer, but like the temperature, things are heating up in the sports world. We will be following a number of compelling stories over the next few weeks.

First, will the Southern Illinois Miners make the Frontier League playoffs?

The Miners have played pretty remarkable baseball in the past two weeks, including a 10-game winning streak. However, they have made little to no progress in the standings.

Two weeks ago, the Miners were two games out of the final Frontier League playoff spot. They begin play this week 1.5 games back.

It’s been an interesting year for the Miners. Some highly-touted prospects coming out of spring training fizzled spectacularly. Key injuries, particularly on the pitching staff knee-capped the Miners. And, seemingly every time manager Mike Pinto got his roster where he wanted it, Major League Baseball signed a key performer.

So, it’s come down to the final dozen games, nine of which are at Rent One Park. The Miners still control their own destiny. The baseball season is like a cross country race. The Miners are near the head of the pack with the finish line in sight.

The team’s fate depends on their kick.

Speaking of cross country, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Mia McLain’s senior season.

McLain, of Benton, had an immediate impact when she burst onto the cross country scene three years ago, winning both the regional and sectional titles. She repeated that feat in both her sophomore and junior season.

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Last year, McLain placed third in the Class A state meet. Obviously, she has her sights set on the state title. McLain winning the state championship wouldn’t be unprecedented. Her dad, and coach, Brent McLain, won the boys cross country championship at Benton in 1982.

Another compelling story is Anna-Jonesboro football.

For the first time in his 22-year tenure at Anna-Jonesboro, Brett Detering doesn’t have a single returning starter. Detering has enjoyed a brilliant career as coach of the Wildcats. He’s 160-79 over his career, and Anna-Jonesboro has qualified for the playoffs 18 of the last 19 seasons.

There have been a few times where prospects looked dim in the preseason, just three of four starters returning, yet Detering nearly always got his team into the postseason. This year’s roster presents a new challenge.

Given Detering’s record and Anna-Jonesboro’s tradition, it would be ridiculous to claim a playoff berth isn’t a realistic goal for the Wildcats.

Finally, there are some coaching situations that are also compelling this season. Carterville and Du Quoin both have “new” coaches, depending on your definition of the term. In both cases, athletic directors have taken over the football programs – Brett Diel at Carterville, Derek Beard at Du Quoin.

In addition, both Diel and Beard were sideline fixtures at their respective schools for years. However, both programs are noted for their stability. Beard will be just Du Quoin’s fourth coach in the last 51 years. Diel replaces Dennis Drust who had an 18-year run.

Then, there is the co-coaching situation at Sesser-Valier-Waltonville. Mike Rude, in his fifth decade of coaching, joins John Shadowens’ staff as co-head coach. Shadowens will run the offense while Rude will be in charge of the defense.

Rude coached Vienna-Goreville last year, while Shadowens’ Red Devils qualified for the playoffs each of the past three years.

And, these story lines don’t even take into account the birth of the SIU soccer program. More than 2,000 fans showed up for the team’s first home exhibition game last weekend. It should be one heckuva fall.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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