The SVSU baseball team began its 2019 season with three losses to No. 15 University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) in a neutral-site series played in Georgia.
The new season also welcomes new coach Steve Jaksa to the program.
Jaksa joins SVSU after a 16-year career as the head coach at Central Michigan, where he was CMU’s second all-time winningest coach. At CMU, he compiled a record of 507-421-2 that included three Mid-American Conference championships.
SVSU looks to bounce back from a 20-28 finish a year ago and finish above .500 for the first time since 2011.
Key returners for the Cardinals include senior infielders Derrek Clyde and Jordan Swiss. A year ago, Swiss hit .382 with three home runs and 34 RBIs. Clyde hit .324 with two home runs and 27 RBIs.
The team also returns junior pitcher Brandon Wise, who earned All-GLIAC Honorable Mention honors a season ago, along with several other key contributors on the mound.
“They want to win,” Jaksa said. “That’s important to them, and to do that, there’s certain things that I’ve asked them to do, and they’re willing to do them. We need to continue to make those changes and those strides.”
SVSU’s season begins with a pair of nonconference series that include the three games with UIS and next weekend’s games against McKendree. From there, the team will play seven games on its annual spring trip that spans from Friday, March 1, to Saturday, March 9.
After a handful of other nonconference games, the team begins GLIAC play Friday, March 22, against Davenport.
Against UIS on Friday, Feb. 15, a six-run second inning for the Prairie Stars proved to be the difference in an 8-5 defeat for SVSU.
Sophomore pitcher Camden Dice took the loss for the Cardinals, lasting only one-and two-thirds innings and allowing seven runs, six earned.
SVSU got on the board in the first when Swiss’ sacrifice fly scored sophomore Andrew Burke, and after UIS answered with a run of its own in the bottom of the first, again took a one-run lead in the top of the second when Clyde singled to center scoring freshman Seth Stratton.
However, UIS responded with a six-run explosion in the bottom of the second inning that the Cardinals couldn’t recover from, despite scoring two additional runs in the fifth and one in the seventh.
“You always learn a lot about your team [in opening games], and it sets up the first go-around for me with them and them with me,” Jaksa said. “I think we were able to accomplish so many more things than what showed up on the scoreboard this particular weekend.”
Clyde was 2-5 with an RBI, and Swiss was 3-4 with three RBIs to pace the Cardinal offense. Junior outfielder Collin Winters also added two hits and an RBI. Junior catcher Gerrit Eding had two hits and a stolen a base.
“I felt really confident at the plate this weekend since we’ve been working on our approach since the fall,” Winters said. “Once I got that first hit out of the way, the ball started rolling for me, and the rest took care of itself.”
The Cardinals struggled in game two on Friday, falling 11-3 to the Prairie Stars.
The Prairie Stars jumped out to 7-0 lead in the bottom of the first, as starting pitcher Chase Gearing lasted only one-third of an inning.
Offensively, the Cardinals put together eight hits, three coming from Swiss and two from junior leftfielder Joshua Riggs.
“I felt great this weekend,” Swiss said. “I was seeing the ball well and picking good pitches to hit.”
The Cardinal defense also committed three errors in the contest.
The team returned to action on Saturday, Feb. 16, but faced a similar result, as it fell 12-6 at the hands of UIS.
Junior pitcher Amani Godfrey took the loss for SVSU, but he competed well with the UIS hitters, allowing five hits and four runs over four-and-two-thirds innings. Clyde, Swiss, Winters, Riggs and Eding all had one hit for the Cardinals.
“There were some huge positives from this weekend,” Swiss said. “We never stopped battling, and that attitude is going to win us ball games down the stretch. If we continue to listen to our coaching and play hard, the wins will take of themselves. We are a very talented group and capable of getting hot fast.”
Reported by Connor Doyle, Vanguard Reporter