SIU at WSU
• The Shockers are 13-7 at Eck Stadium this season.
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• Kevin Hall had a career-best 15-game hitting streak end Wednesday.
• Johnny Coy is the only Shocker to start every game this season.
• WSU leads the all-time series with SIU 90-31 and won 2 of 3 last season in Carbondale.
• Josh Smith is 3-0 with a 3.07 ERA in five starts at home this season.
• Ken Henderson is in his second season as Southern Illinois coach.
As Wichita State begins Missouri Valley Conference play tonight, don’t look for any “gimmes,” coach Gene Stephenson said.
“We have a very hard road ahead,” Stephenson said Thursday. “There are a lot of good teams in this league with experienced players.
“There are no easy makes.”
And he said one of those tough teams is Southern Illinois (14-11), which faces the Shockers (15-13) at 6:30 as WSU launches Valley play. The Salukis already have three league games under their belt, taking two of three from Bradley last weekend.
Outfielder Don Lambert echoed Stephenson’s sentiments.
“We had better come out and play every day, or it’s not going to be very much fun,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, and there’s a lot of things we need to clean up.
“If we play all three aspects of the game – we score runs, we play defense and we pitch – we’re going to win a lot of games. But when we don’t do that, it’s tough to win. That’s the difference between being a .500 team and being 20-5.”
The series will spotlight two of the league’s better first basemen in SIU’s Chris Serritella and the Shockers’ Johnny Coy. Serritella is hitting .382 with six homers and 28 RBIs; Coy hit his fifth homer Wednesday and is batting .359 with 33 RBIs. Stephenson said Serritella was the league’s best first baseman two years ago, but was slowed by a wrist injury in 2011.
The Salukis, whose leading hitter is Austin Montgomery (.386), have hit 20 home runs this season, compared with WSU’s 12.
“It’s going to come down to who competes better, and hopefully that’s us,” Coy said.
Complicating matters for the Shockers is that this series is just one of three for WSU at home in league play with four series, including next week at Illinois State (16-6), on the road.
Missouri State (20-6, 3-0) and Indiana State (21-5, 2-1) are off to quick starts this season. In addition, Evansville upset Southeastern Conference power Vanderbilt and SIU beat No. 19 Stetson during nonconference play.
“All those teams have a lot of experience,” Stephenson said.
Even with that, he said the Shockers have a shot to be in the conference race.
“We can compete in this league, but we have to bring a competitive spirit every day we play,” he said. “The players have begun to realize that. We have to play well, and we have to play hard in every inning of every game.”
The Shockers’ weekend rotation will consist of left-hander Josh Smith and right-handers Mitch Mormann and A.J. Ladwig. Stephenson said lefty Albert Minnis, who sparkled in Wednesday’s 9-4 victory over South Alabama, has a strained rotator cuff. Ladwig allowed Purdue just one hit in 3 1/3 innings and struck out three March 17.
“It’s imperative that we play well this weekend,” Stephenson said. “We’re hopeful.”