Eureka College baseball

Tom Batters
Eureka College catcher Alex Hess hit .338 with 13 homeruns and 44 RBIs last season. He was named to the All SLIAC Conference first team. Hess returns to the Red Devils lineup this season.

When you are a young team (11 freshmen), you need seniors to provide leadership and show the newcomers what college baseball is all about.

Eureka College baseball coach Craig Gerdes has three seniors, and he said he has confidence in each one of them, not just for their ability on the field, but for their leadership off it.

Tim Cashdollar, Alex Hess and Aaron Tolson are the only seniors for the Red Devils, who set a school record for wins (19) and advanced to their first SLIAC Tournament in 2010.

They went toe-to-toe with top-seeded Webster (an 8-5 loss) and second-seeded Greenville (an extra inning loss) at the conference tournament.

With those three seniors at the controls, Gerdes said he expects to make another trip to the postseason this year (the top four teams in the conference advance to the tournament).

“Our seniors do things the right way, and they do a good job demonstrating what it takes to be a good player and a good leader,” Gerdes said. “Our freshmen listen to them. They respect them.”

Hess, a first team all conference selection last year, will handle the catching job again this year. That job becomes more challenging, since the top three pitchers from last season graduated.

“Alex was our MVP last year,” Gerdes said. “We expect big things from him again, both at the plate and behind the plate.”

Hess batted .338 with 13 home runs and 44 runs batted in last year.

Cashdollar, who hit .279 with 32 RBIs last year, will start at first base.

Cashdollar is the only left-handed hitter on the roster (junior Pierce Furrow is a switch hitter).

“We don’t have as much experience, but we have a great group of guys,” Cashdollar said. “I’ve faced our pitchers in the batting cage, and they all have good stuff.”

Tolson will start at second base and share time at designated hitter with a number of different hitters.

Last year’s top three pitchers (Clay McConkey, Tyler Glaub and Nick Eeten) all graduated.

Gerdes will count on junior Blake McConkey (2-3, 8.51 ERA in 2010) to be the ace in a very young pitching rotation.

“He is ready to be a No. 1 starter,” Gerdes said. “We have a lot of confidence in him.”

Sophomore John Berns (0-3, 12.66) also returns. The rest of the pitchers are newcomers.

“John was our most improved player last year,” Gerdes said. “We’re expecting big things from him on the mound this year.”

Mike Daxenbichler, a junior transfer from ICC, who Gerdes calls a “well-rounded utility player,” will get some time on the mound when he is not moving around the infield.

The freshman class of pitchers includes three left-handers (Kyle Kiesewetter, Bryan Meyer and Stephen Davis).

Kiesewetter led Metamora to a Regional title last year.

“Kyle is one of those pitchers who had a lot of success in high school, so we’ll just have to throw him into the fire,” Gerdes said. “So far, I like what I’ve seen from our young pitchers. Coach (Robert) Doty has done a great job with them.”

Gerdes said junior Michael Hammerstrand has a good shot at securing the starting centerfielder position.

Freshman Grant DeWitt will start at shortstop.

“He’s very smooth and he makes all the plays,” Gerdes said. “He’s right there in Tyler Glaub’s category.” Glaub was the team’s starting shortstop for the past two seasons.