SIUE Baseball Season Preview; Cougars Open Friday at Southeastern Louisiana

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – In 2021, SIUE baseball finished at 23-27 overall, matching the most wins under Sean Lyons (2017). SIUE was 13-17 in Ohio Valley Conference play, marking the most OVC wins since 2015, but the Cougars didn’t celebrate. SIUE missed out on a chance to go to the OVC tournament, after a season-ending sweep at the hands of Tennessee Tech.

The team is not just motivated to improve, but to excel in 2022, and to be part of that tournament field come the end of the season. The tournament has changed format to include an incentive to the top two seeds, which will earn a bye to the second day. The lower six seeds will play in the first four games, which are single-elimination format.

“Our guys want to win 35-plus games,” SIUE Head Coach Sean Lyons said. “Our mindset and our players’ mindsets are that we know how important it is to be a one or two seed and get out of that first day.”

The conference also has shrunk from 11 baseball playing schools to nine, which means more nonconference weekends before the start of league play.

“I like having some more nonconference weekends,” Lyons said. “It give you some time to figure out your lineup, so that you’re not still tinkering with things early in the conference season.”

The reduction of teams also means the urgency is increased once conference play begins.

“The margin of error is much tighter,” Lyons added. “When that time comes (OVC play) you want to make sure that your core is pretty consistent.”

While, the OVC’s head coaches and sports information personnel chose SIUE for a sixth-place finish, national baseball website was more bullish on the Cougars’ chances, picking SIUE for a third-place finish.

“Depth is the most encouraging thing going into the year,” Lyons said. “As I watch practice, I think we have three centerfielders on the roster. The depth has created a lot of competition. Which has made practices fresher and more high energy.”

Led by All-OVC preseason selections Brett Johnson (50 starts) and Brady Bunten (46 starts), the Cougars return five position players that made at least 40 starts last year. Connor Kiffer (49), Ole Arntson (42) and Avery Owusu-Asiedu (40) round out the experienced list.

Kiffer has made 62 career starts at second base, but will shift to the left side of the infield and man third base for the Cougars.

“A big difference, defensively, will be moving Connor to third base,” Lyon said.

Richie Well made 38 starts and Josh Ohli made 25. Brennan Orfu appeared 24 times, while making 14 starts as a true freshman. SIUE also returns catchers Steven Pattan and John Stallcup, who made 25 starts apiece. Pattan is SIUE’s active career leader with 78 games played.

We have two catchers we really feel comfortable with,” Lyons said of his backstops.

Newcomers Braedyn BrewerDrew Mize also will look to earn at-bats in the Cougars lineup, which was among the most powerful in the OVC in 2021.

The Cougars led the OVC in slugging percentage (.462) and triples (15), while finishing second in the league in home runs (64), runs batted in (296) and total bases (804). Additionally, SIUE was third in doubles (98), fourth in batting average (.278), runs scored (315) and hits (484).

Lyons warned not to discount SIUE’s pitching.

“On the mound, on paper, the depth is night and day compared to where we’ve been,” Lyons said.

The Cougars boast three pitchers who made at least nine starts last year in Brant Glidewell (9), Noah Matheny (11) and Jake Bockenstedt (9) and also return Kaid Karnes (six starts). Collin Baumgartner returns after missing 2021 due to injury. Baumgartner made four Friday starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and led the OVC with 15 starts in 2019, the last full season he was part of.

“We can move Bockenstedt to the bullpen, which may seem like a demotion, but it’s not at all,” Lyons said. “With a healthy Collin and Noah and ‘Mr. Consistency’ in Brant Glidewell as your top three starters you’re in good shape.”

Returners Quinn Waterhouse and Trent Glidewell join newcomers Taylor BruningaKyle DixonCoby RogersAlex Scherer and Spencer Smith in the Cougars’ bullpen plans.

SIUE will challenge itself to open the season with a three-game series beginning Friday at Southeastern Louisiana, which won 32 games a season ago. The Cougars will open the home slate with Saint Louis with a single game Feb. 22 and then travel to Mercer for a weekend series in Georgia. The Bears were 35-22 in 2021. The first weekend home series is March 4-6 when Western Michigan comes to Edwardsville for four games.

The Cougars open OVC play on the road at defending league champions Southeast Missouri March 25-27.

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