The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

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EIU Baseball’s path through OVC Tournament

Freshman+right-handed+pitcher+Slater+Wilcox+%2832%29+pitches+at+Coaches+Stadium+on+Sunday+for+the+EIU+baseball+game.
Aidan Cusack
Freshman right-handed pitcher Slater Wilcox (32) pitches at Coaches Stadium on Sunday for the EIU baseball game.

It’s been almost a year since, then senior closing pitcher, Zane Robbins, earned his seventh save of the season, closing out the Ohio Valley Conference Championship game against Morehead State University 6-5. That win punched Eastern’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

This season, however, the team is in a different position as the Panthers recorded a worse record after such a strong 2023 season.

Eastern started the season with 13 away games, and by the time the team was back at Coaches Stadium for it’s home opener against Bellarmine University, the Panthers recorded a 2-11 overall record.

The pitching staff was decimated by injury early in the season; Robbins wasn’t his normal self for most of the season, running into control issues and blown saves.

Robbins was dealing with a thumb injury, and it took him a long time to settle back into his role.

The starting rotation was also plagued with injury, most notably junior right-handed pitcher Tyler Conklin.

Conklin made the opening day start but only made three starts in total before his season came to a close with an injury.

With his pitchers dropping like flies, Eastern’s baseball manager Jason Anderson was left scrambling to put a staff together.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Bryce Riggs earned a spot in the rotation for a while after a breakout performance against Dayton University, and fellow freshman right-handed pitcher Slater Wilcox was elevated from the redshirt list to make a couple starts and work out of the bullpen.

Junior right-handed pitcher Casey Perrenoud emerged as a reliable arm, as did junior right-handed pitcher Christian Carew at the tail end of the regular season, and senior right-handed pitcher Colton Coca proved he can handle work no matter the situation.

Offensively, senior outfielder Lucas Loos leads the way in almost every major category in the OVC. Loos has earned back-to-back OVC Player of the Week nominations and is red hot with a bat in his hand.

To close out the regular season, Eastern is on a five-game winning streak after they swept Lindenwood University to confirm their spot in the tournament.

Eastern enters the OVC Tournament as a six seed and will play Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE) on Wednesday.

To make it back to where they were last year, the NCAA Tournament, the Panthers will need to beat the Cougars and then beat the three seeded Morehead State Eagles later in the day. Eastern lost two out of three games to both teams this season, with both series being at Coaches Stadium.

If Eastern can beat both of those teams on Wednesday, they’ll advance to the games on Thursday.

From then on, it’s a four-team double elimination tournament.

Eastern would play the number two seeded Southeast Missouri State, a team that swept the Panthers out of Coaches Stadium to start conference play. If the Panthers pick up the win over the Redhawks, they’d play in the winner’s bracket on Friday, just one win away from the championship game. If at any point starting on Thursday they record a loss, the Panthers would need to fight their way through the elimination bracket.

If Eastern finds themselves in the championship through the winner’s bracket, they’d just need to win once on Saturday. If the Panthers get to the championship game through the elimination bracket, they’d need to win both games on Saturday to become back-to-back OVC Champions.

Because of Eastern’s early season struggles and lack of consistency, their only chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament would be by winning their conference again.

One might question the possibility of a six seed running the table and winning the whole thing, but unlike most sports, baseball tournaments aren’t about who the best team is but more about which team is playing better games and coming up with crucial wins at the current moment. Examples of that have been on display at every level from little league to the major leagues.

Keep in mind that the Panthers won the tournament last season as a five seed. Anything is possible this weekend.

 

Gabe Newman can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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