Baseball Practice for 2012 Season Begins
Jan. 27, 2012
NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State baseball team reported for the first day of practice Friday afternoon. The Redbirds have 21 days left to prepare before the 2012 season begins Feb. 17 at Austin Peay.
"Obviously we're excited about the start of the new season," third-year ISU head baseball coach Mark Kingston said. "We have a lot of guys to replace, after losing good hitting and pitching to graduation. With that being said, I really like the new players who have come into our program and I like our returners."
Offensively, ISU returns five starters, including 2010 Missouri Valley Conference Joe Carter Player of the Year, Kevin Tokarski. The senior second baseman ranked fourth on the 2011 team with a .282 batting average, including six doubles, two triples and three home runs. Tokarski also led the Redbirds with 17 multiple-hit games and stole 25 bases to increase his career-stolen bases record at ISU to 91.
Expectations for Tokarski and fellow senior closer Kenny Long are high, as both were named to the College Sports Madness MVC Preseason Second-Team. Additionally, junior Brett Kay enters the season after winning the 2011 Northwoods League Rawlings Finest in the Field Award for his efforts at shortstop during summer ball. Kay fielded .969 for the Thunder Bay Border Cats in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Collectively, the 2012 Illinois State baseball team features 19 returning lettermen and 13 newcomers.
ISU's top returning pitcher is Long, who begins his senior season after leading the Redbirds with a 0.92 ERA and a 4-1 record with six saves last year. The left-hander is also the all-time saves leader at Illinois State with 15. Justin Hauer will also be back following MVC honorable mention recognition in 2011 and a 3-0 record with a 1.41 ERA. Despite ISU's bullpen depth, the Redbirds will need an entirely new weekend rotation after losing Corey Maines to graduation and JD Learnard and Dan Savas to offseason surgery. Kingston is counting on former mid-week starters and newcomers to fill the starting roles.
"I think we're set up to surprise some people, but before we can do that, we're going to have to figure out a lot of things as we get into the season, such as lineups and different positions that guys fit in best," Kingston said. "We have a lot to figure out and a lot of pieces to the puzzle that we need to put together. But, I think we have enough pieces of that puzzle to have another very good season at ISU."
Illinois State will begin the 2012 season Feb. 17 at Austin Peay beginning at 3 p.m. The Redbirds open their home schedule against Division III MacMurray College Mar. 23, with free admission to all 17 home games played at Duffy Bass Field this year.
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