By Allan Lewis: Alestle Sports Editor
Allan Lewis, Alestle Sports Editor
Lots to address this week, we have basketball to break down, a few new sports starting their seasons and all kinds of fun and exciting things.
Here it goes again!
Let’s begin the week talking about softball. Yeah, I know we almost had a snow day yesterday and it’s -325 degrees outside, but believe it or not Friday the Cougars begin their attempt at an encore to last year’s 40 win season, competing in South Alabama’s tournament, featuring a cast of mid-majors in hosts South Alabama (Sun Belt), Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), Samford (the school SIUE is replacing in the OVC, now members of the Southern Conference) and Western Kentucky (Sun Belt).
(Sean Roberts-Alestle) Senior 3B Lauren Zembruski will be important to SIUE if they are to keep pace with last season's 40-10 mark.
I am a little hesitant on predicting how Coach Sandy Montgomery’s team will fare this season. The Cougars were outstanding last season. The softball team is our athletic department’s pride and joy. They are the 2007 Division II National Champions, and last season proved they were not just a transitioning DII juggernaut prone to a rude awakening at the next level. SIUE received votes in the National Top 25 poll, and knocked off two ranked teams on their way to a 40-10 record. 40-10 is impressive for anyone playing the schedule they took on last season, but to do it in their first year was nothing outside of special.
Could this year be a repeat or something different? Well, we will see how it plays out on the diamond, because I honestly have no idea. SIUE lost five seniors, while returning just two. There are MASSIVE shoes to fill for the Cougars, especially on the mound. Caitlin Colosimo was a monster. Check out this line: 19-4, 22 complete games, 10 shutouts a 1.00 ERA, 152 strikeouts, 20 walks and 174.1 Innings pitched.
It’s not just her numbers Montgomery has to somehow find a way to re-produce, but her ability to eat a ton of innings and relieve the rest of the pitching staff. A lot of trust is going to go to junior Erika Taylor to fill the ace role, a spot she should be able to naturally fill, after posting her own earth-shattering numbers: 17-6, 1.22 ERA, 17 complete games, 3 shutouts, 144 strikeouts in 143.1 innings.
Junior College transfer Ali Downing and Freshmen Lindsey Coleman round out the pitching staff.
Offensively, SIUE has four of their six biggest weapons returning to the squad, most notably Lauren Zembruski, the team leader in batting average (.373) Home Runs (7) RBI (39) walks (32) and on-base percentage (.497.)
Taylor and Zembruski are going to be the cogs in the SIUE machine this season. Chaleen Rumpf, The only senior on the team outside of Zembruski will also play an important part in the Cougar offense, with her career .331 batting average.
SIUE has a young team this year, and the inexperience on the roster is the only thing keeping anyone from penciling in another 40 win season and perhaps cracking the top 25. There are eight sophomores and four freshmen on this team. The majority of the sophomore cast saw playing time last season, and that added experience will be important. The past success of the program undoubtedly gives Montgomery a little more flexibility when it comes to recruiting, along with the program’s fast-tracked status allowing it to compete for championships next season. Freshman Samantha Stanicek comes to the team after being named one of the top high school players in the state.
Following up on last year is going to be a tough task, but this is a confident bunch. We’ll see what happens.
On the slightly bigger field of similar shape with a mound instead of a circle is the SIUE baseball team. They have a little bit more time to prepare for the unseasonably early beginning of the college season, opening up against the team they closed last season against, Central Arkansas on the road.
(Sean Roberts-Alestle) Senior Outfielder Mike Hurt and the SIUE baseball team...will they improve on last season?
The Cougars will be spending a lot of time in Arkansas early on, playing two against UCA with Creighton sandwiched between before a three game series at Arkansas Little-Rock.
If I had to pick an SIUE team to break out of last season’s funk in 2010, it is this one.
Coach Gary Collins knows what he is doing. The man has 944 career wins coaching SIUE baseball.
Last year, the Cougars were 15-39. It wasn’t the most illustrious year of Collins career, but as with every team here (besides softball…knock on wood), it was marked by the typical transitional growing pains we have seen across the board. With just six home games on the docket, it was also a grind associated with constant life on the road.
In my short time covering this team at the end of the season, one glaring weakness was apparent.
SIUE did not have any.
Opponents outscored SIUE by 120 runs over the course of the season, but the Cougars certainly had an ample amount of offensive firepower. They just let down too many runs.
The stat of the season last year: SIUE was 7-5 when scoring more than 10 runs in a game.
They allowed opponents to score more than 10 runs 13 times, losing all 13.
The team’s combined ERA was 7.01 and opponents hit .323 against SIUE pitching.
This team has it’s offensive weapons, in seniors Micheal Hopkins, Mike Hurt and Adam Eggemeyer. There is a good cast of role players complimenting them as well. Offensively, the Cougars are healthy after an injury-riddled 2009.
SIUE will score runs, it is just going to be a matter of keeping them off the scoreboard.
Looking to the spring is nice, but it’s time to talk about what is going on RIGHT NOW…and probably what a majority of our readers are here for, COUGAR BASKETBALL!
Courtesy of my phone...classy, I know.
First up, the men. I will be the first to admit I have been a little frustrated with this team. I love college basketball, and I love SIUE basketball even more. Let’s hold off on the frustration for a bit, because I have a feeling my constant regurgitation of the team’s problems are getting tired and the proof has been made evident through countless performances.
The two games SIUE played this week were against teams going through the same process we are, in South and North Dakota. USD has owned us throughout the maiden voyage, holding a 4-1 mark against SIUE, (2-0 this season, 2-1 last season, with the Cougars coming back from 17 down last season at the Vadalabene Center for its first “Division I*” home win.) This season, there was little doubt when it came to who was going to get the win in Edwardsville. USD was just the all-around better team on both ends of the court, and held an apparent advantage on the low-post with the combination of Steve Smith and Tyler Cain.
The senior duo combined for 13-19 shooting and 30 points with 14 rebounds and along with the rest of the Coyotes, torched SIUE inside, where they owned a 39-32 rebounding edge and 54 points in the paint, an area where even with a rebounding advantage, SIUE has had trouble scoring. The low post has not been generating any offense for the Cougars all season long, and that area has really put a burden on this team, not being able to work the ball inside out while running the offense. USD’s low-post presence undoubtedly helped their shooting numbers, creating easy buckets and an astronomical 65 percent mark for the contest.
SIUE’s offense, meanwhile struggled, connecting on 39 percent of their field goal opportunities, and shooting just 5-23 from three-point range. They went into their typical NBA Live panic mode after a few empty possessions and fired up too many perimeter shots in a feeble attempt to get back into the game, obviously creating more empty possessions.
There were positives early on. The Cougars were moving the ball much better in their offense, creating a few easy back-door opportunities with Stephen Jones running the point in the absence of Aamir McCleary, but at times they maybe made an extra pass or two, passing up on a look and ending with a mistake.
Mark Yelovich scored 18 points, but was only 8-22 shooting in the game, I thought maybe he was pressing a little too hard without McCleary at his side, but I do agree with what Coach Forrester said after the game, in trusting Mark to take his shots when he has the chance. It was just one of those games where nothing went right, as has been the case offensively for awhile.
I want to make note of this though: SIUE is a young basketball team, with a strong cast of freshmen and sophomores. South Dakota, meanwhile started their transition with an experienced basketball team and in turn, is currently playing with juniors and seniors. Without Cain and Smith, SIUE would have had a fighting chance, but the combination of Nikolo Bundalo, Zeke Schneider (who I will note, has improved since early on this season) and Dob Mavrak (whom I feel Zeke has in turn, passed on the depth chart due to his improvement) was just unable to compete with the experience and talent the Coyotes had at their disposal.
Sunday, SIUE continued their shooting funk, going 27 percent from the field against the other Dakota, the North one.
Yelovich tallied 18 points, and as a team the Cougars just managed 50 in a seven point loss against the patient Fighting Sioux and their Princeton offense. SIUE had 27 rebounds, and was 5-22 from three-point range, you know the story. Cougars will be Cougars.
The outcome of this game was difficult to stomach, because victory was a distinct possibility for the first time in awhile, if you don’t consider the win against Robert Morris for more than it was worth. The Sioux were 4-17, SIUE 3-20. It was an even-matched game, and with the full support of McCleary and LeShaun Murphy, out of the lineup for various reasons, the outcome could have been different. The back end of the bench, Dane Church, Alex Newlin and Desmond Young saw action early in this one, which comes as a surprise being a competitive game. This team has got to be physically drained at this stage of the schedule, creating more opportunity for these guys. Not to mention the injuries.
The pieces will come together. I just keep telling myself this. It will be okay.
The SIUE women also had a rough week, but considering the competition, all in all, it wasn’t bad. They played the first-place team in the Ohio Valley Conference tough at home, and endured a tough road game at Miami of the ACC, in battle of schools nicknamed after vowels.
Thursday’s game against Eastern provided a fantastic barometer to gauge the future of SIUE women’s basketball with, and all in all I am okay with the final result, a 74-63 loss to Tony Romo University.
SIUE fought of an early 14 point deficit, and trailed by six at the break, while Freshmen Michaela Herrod had the biggest game of her career, scoring 20 points.
With the Ohio Valley Conference having a horrendous year on the women’s side, and putting SIUE’s youth into consideration, we can assume the Cougars will improve as the transition period progresses, and the pieces will fall into place when an NCAA tournament bid is on the line.
Speaking of the OVC’s weak women’s league, ESPN women’s Bracketologist Charlie Creme currently has EIU tabbed as a 16 seed. No complaints here.
Miami is on the bubble, at 16-7, they need as many wins as they can get to try and sneak into the NCAA tournament in the always tough ACC. Anytime SIUE plays a power conference school, no matter the sport or gender, it is a good experience, and the Cougars held their own against a very good team, losing 85-60, with Herrod once again coming up big with 20 points.
Up next for the women is Oakland City Saturday at the Vadalabene Center, it’s the pink game for Breast Cancer awareness, so if you are not partaking in the Mardi Gras craziness in St. Louis I encourage you to go to the VC for a few reasons.
- We are going to win, It’s Oakland City.(7-12, DII)
- It’s for a good cause.
- Free T-shirts!!!!
My job advertising is done.
Time to close out with a few random tidbits and things of that nature.
The SIUE track teams, whom I would have blogged about in a little greater detail if this wasn’t already too long and straining your eyes have one more event to close out the indoor season and are on an absolute tear. Every time they compete, someone is setting some kind of record, and that is all good news as we prepare to wait out until the spring, and track without a roof. Ben Bishop has thrown heavy objects farther than everyone else in all five tries inside, while Kayla Brown, Aftan Noon and company are up to their old tricks.
The SIUE women’s tennis team is off to a strong start, posting a 6-1 win over OVC rival Southeast Missouri State at the Edwardsville Y!M!C!A! Saturday, sweeping doubles and winning five of six singles matches. Good job.
I clicked onto siuecougars.com the other day and found out we are having a pep-rally for the Men’s basketball Bracketbuster game Feb. 20 against Cal State Fullerton. Intrigued, I clicked on the link to find out the pep rally is taking place in FULLERTON. I asked the Alestle to get me on a plane, but that was to no avail.
As far as the Super Bowl goes, I picked the Saints, and the Saints won. Still, football expert, I am not. Go Rams!
You want something to watch on TV Thursday instead of going out? I’ll suggest Moreahead State vs. Eastern Illinois in OVC men’s action at 8 p.m. on ESPNU and St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga at 10 p.m. over on ESPN2.
In honor of softball/baseball starting up, and the awesomeness of George Knox, I’ll sign off with this, enjoy the show!