Healthy Redhawks 'rejuvenated' entering 2020 baseball season

Southeast Missouri State catcher Wade Strauss swings at a pitch while scrimmaging during a fall practice at Capaha Field.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

Fourth-year Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Andy Sawyers will have to budget his time this afternoon because in filling out his lineup card for the Redhawks’ season-opener at UL Monroe (4 p.m.), he has more names to consider than he did throughout much of last season.

“We feel a little rejuvenated because we have our personnel out there that you count on,” Sawyers said. “The group you counted on is out there right now and that is a good feeling to have.”

A year ago, the Redhawks were besieged with injuries, none more critical than outfielder Justin Dirden, who was an All-Ohio Valley Conference selection in 2018.

The right-fielder and designated hitter got injured early and ultimately redshirted. However, he is back and will bolster the Redhawk lineup, according to Sawyers.

“We are significantly more physical than we were a year ago with guys out of the lineup,” Sawyers said.

Junior infielder Tyler Wilber is a preseason All-American selection, but Sawyers said he shouldn’t have been the lone Redhawk with that honor.

“We really should have two preseason All-Americans,” Sawyers said. “Justin was a preseason All-American a year ago, but only got five at-bats before being forced out of the lineup due to injury.

“Truth be told, he probably had a better year than Tyler did during (Dirden’s) junior year.”

Wilber started every game at shortstop (55 games) in 2019 and led the OVC in hitting (.383 average) and on-base percentage (.480).

Dirden hit .340 with 46 runs scored in 2018 but also showed power with 19 doubles and 16 home runs. His offense generated 68 RBIs.

“Justin is better than he was,” Sawyers said, “so I think we have a chance to have two really high-end bats in the middle, going 3-4 in the middle of the order.”

Southeast finished dead-last in the OVC with 11 home runs in league play, while seven teams connected for at least 32 homers.

“This league, traditionally, is a slugging-type of league,” Sawyers said. “I feel like for the first time since I’ve been here we have two guys in the middle who can really, really slug it.

“That is exciting.”

Another rehabilitated Redhawk is redshirt sophomore catcher Wade Stauss, who played in just 11 games last season after seeing action in 48 in 2018.

Stauss had three doubles in 11 games a year ago and seven home runs as a freshman.

He and sophomore Andrew Keck will compete for time behind the plate and Sawyers said the latter has power potential offensively.

“I think Andrew Keck has a chance now that he has experience,” Sawyers said. “He knows how to play a Division I game instead of just being a talented freshman who was up there ‘hacking.’

“He’s a guy who you could see a huge jump from and be a double-digit type home runs.”

Sawyers not only has healthy players returning this spring, but also new players in general.

“We have two freshmen who are going to be in the opening-day lineup,” Sawyers said. “

Lincoln Andrews showed power in the fall and even in January scrimmages, so Sawyers is placing him at designated hitter right away.

Also getting a look will be Peyton Leeper, who prepped at South Calloway High School.

“Peyton is not a super big guy,” Sawyers said of the 5-foot-11 infielder, “he’s not tall, but he is a well put together young man, who is a strong, physical kid.”

Following today’s opening game, the two teams will meet Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).

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