MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois baseball fought its way to 21 victories in 2011 including 13 wins in The Summit League. Those conference wins were enough to secure a fourth-place finish and a spot in the postseason tournament for the first time since 2008 while, also achieving the 20-win plateau for the first time since that same year.
Senior Tom Lilja leads the Leatherneck offensive attack after a Second Team All-Summit League and All-Tournament caliber season. Lilja was the sixth Leatherneck all-time to collect 11 home runs in a season, one shy of the program record, while hitting .281. Senior Dan Russell and Rich Mascheri will top a revamped pitching staff.
Russell broke into the program record book with 102.2 innings pitched (third all-time) and 80 strikeouts (sixth all-time) last season. Russell collected six wins with a 4.21 ERA. Mascheri rejoins the active roster after redshirting last season but was a Summer All-Star in the West Coast League with a 2.70 ERA in 73.1 innings pitched.
The Purple & Gold look back to wins over Georgia State, Iowa and a split with longtime power and preseason favorite Oral Roberts as signs that the program is moving in a positive direction.
The 2012 schedule will feature more games inside the confines of Al Boyer Stadium in Macomb than there were 2011. Of the 22 home contests, there will be four non-conference tilts including series with Xavier (March 23-25) and Bradley (March 30-April 1).
The season will open up with a four-game series at Georgia State (Feb.17-19). Western will travel to Huntsville, Ala. for the Bulldog Classic (Feb. 24-26) for games with Indiana State, host Alabama A&M and Maryland Eastern Shore.
season test will pit the Leathernecks against the Bulldogs of Georgia (March
2-4) in Athens. Georgia was ranked No. 11 nationally during the preseason by Baseball America.
Home Summit League opponents include Southern Utah (April 6-8), North Dakota State (April 13-15), and IPFW (May 4-6). The Leathernecks will travel to Oral Roberts (April 20-22), Oakland (April 27-29) and South Dakota State (May 17-19) for Summit League road battles.
Other non-conference opponents will be St. Ambrose (April 3), Culver-Stockton (April 4), Iowa (April 10), Eastern Illinois (April 24) and Illinois State (May 11-13).
offensive threats rejoining Austin Cowen, OF Dan Dispensa, 3B Danny Marcuzzo and OF/DH Ryan
Cowhey. Mascheri will also be a valuable addition to the batting order as he hit .385 in 2010.
in the Leatherneck lineup will be OF/IF Matt Igara, IF/C
Igara hit .317 with four home runs, 35 RBI, 10 stolen bases and 109 total bases last season while playing the majority of his time in the outfield and started every game. He also saw time at third base and will likely continue to play some hot corner for the Leathernecks. Igara was named Summit League Male Athlete of the Month in March.
Cowen was the
only other Leatherneck to start every game, all coming at shortstop. This
season Cowen will get a look behind the plate as Western has a few options to
replace John Koszulinski. Last season, Cowen was second on the team with a .302
average with 37 RBI and 13 doubles. Cowen will also see time at second base this season.
Dispensa hit .281 with 22 RBI and a .989 fielding percentage while starting 54 games. Cowhey showed flashes of power with six home runs and 10 doubles last season while starting in 47 games.
Marcuzzo collected 42 starts in 2011 and hit .238 with five big flys and 24 RBI.
On the mound, Western will return five pitchers that made starts last season including.
Alexander Zarate made the second most starts behind Russell of the returners with 10. Zarate went 4-5 with 45 Ks in 55.1 innings with a 5.20 ERA.
will be looked to as the stopper out of the bullpen after he pitched 32 innings
last season. Dustin Hunter will also be looked to out of the bullpen to eat
some innings. Hunter had a 4.72 ERA in 26.2 innings in 2011. Left-hander Chris Macek also returns after redshirting last season.
Macek made 16 appearances and seven starts in 2010 and should be a solid option out of the bullpen after missing last season due to injury.
The Leathernecks will add 11 high school athletes and three JUCO athletes to the roster. In addition, seven redshirts will add depth across the board for the Purple & Gold.
Manny Reyes will compete for the starting catcher spot after being named a 2011 Alaska Baseball League All-Star in the summer. Reyes set high school records with a .514 average and a 21-game hitting streak. He also spent a season at Central Arizona before joining Western.
Another freshman vying for significant time will be Jameson Henning. The 6-3 athletic infielder will see time at shortstop and give the coaching staff flexibility with Cowen.
Mark Garton will also throw his name into the hat for the starting catcher battle. Garton was a Perfect Game Underclass Honorable Mention selection.
Vince Howard will add depth to the outfield after spending two seasons at Meramec CC. The Atlanta Braves drafted Howard in the 30th round.
Coach Villano and staff will look to the pitching staff to get Western to the nest level in program development. Tyler Farrell will join the Leathernecks out of Galesburg and was drafted in the 43rd round by the New York Yankees. Farrell was named the No. 11 prospect in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report coming out of high school.