November 28, 2020

Baseball team holds ground against D-I Illinois State

ILLUSTRATION BY VICTORIA COURTNEY.

In his six years as coach of the Webster University baseball team, Bill Kurich has never had the Gorloks face a Division-I team. But on March 25, Webster took on the challenge when it traveled to Normal, Ill., to face Illinois State University of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Though they were playing an opponent two divisions above them, the Gorloks didn’t back down and only lost 6-2.

“It wasn’t David versus Goliath,” Kurich said. “Those kids are 18 to 20 years old. They were playing high school baseball three years ago. It just wasn’t that big of a deal to our guys in all reality.”

Webster has athletes play in collegiate summer leagues across the country, so the Gorloks are no strangers to going against players on Division-I teams.

“When they’re out there — wherever our guys do go in the summer time that we set them up with — they’re not in awe of guys from Division-I schools,” Kurich said. “If (they) were going up against kids from Illinois State in the New York Collegiate League, like many of our guys have gone to, they wouldn’t be awestruck. It wouldn’t be a big deal.”

Illinois State lost a game from its schedule against Dallas Baptist University in the offseason; so, Redbirds’ coach Mark Kingston approached Kurich in the winter about filling the void.

Kurich scheduled the game against Illinois State not expecting to have a tripleheader against Principia College the day before, after rescheduling due to rain. Kurich also didn’t expect to lose sophomore starting pitchers Zach Schneider and Dylan Dean Smith to injuries.

“At the time when I scheduled the games, I assumed Zach Schneider and Dylan Smith were going to be healthy and with us, and able to pitch,” Kurich said. “They’re not, so it left us a little bit thin pitching, which was part of the issue we had on Saturday night against (Principia). We got a little thin pitching in order to save (junior pitcher) Steven Dooley for the Illinois State game.”

Dooley had the tough task of pitching against an Illinois State team that is 16-6 and has averaged 8.64 runs per game.

“I was pretty nervous just because I knew it was probably going to be one of the better teams I would throw against this season,” Dooley said. “Usually when I go into a game, it doesn’t matter if the team has already beaten me — I still think, ‘This time they’re not going to beat me.’ That’s pretty much my mindset going into every game.”

Dooley threw six innings, allowing six runs — three earned — on five hits and five walks, while striking out three.

“I just tried to locate my pitches, keep the ball down and just make them swing,” Dooley said. “I threw 112 pitches, and I think half of them were strikes, so that’s not very good. Our defense made some very good plays that kept us in the game.”

The defense also committed three errors, which led to three unearned Redbird runs.

“We got out to a good lead,” Kurich said. “We made some mistakes, and gave them three runs. Against a good team, if you give them extra outs, they took advantage against us.”

Senior first baseman Tom Henke said Webster wouldn’t have been able to stay in the game if it wasn’t for Dooley.

“Dooley pitched a hell of a game,” Henke said. “He went out there and did exactly what he needed to do for us. He’s a huge part of this team and he’s going to compete, and that’s what he did.”

Junior outfielder Alex Kazmierski, sophomore second baseman Taylor Stoulp and Henke all recorded multiple hits against Illinois State.

Kazmierski, who was named the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball Player of the Week, went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Stoulp was 3 for 5, and Henke was 2 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored.

“I wasn’t really nervous about (playing them),” Henke said. “It was more of excitement really. They’re the same age as us. It doesn’t really matter about that. It’s exciting getting the opportunity to play a Division-I team. I knew our team would go out and compete, which we did. I’m proud of our guys for doing that.”

A loss is a loss, but losing by only four runs to a very good Division-I team can be a gain for the Gorloks, according to Kurich.

“All we could do is take positives out of it,” Kurich said. “We’ll make the most out of a loss as we can, but nobody ever likes to lose.”

Dooley said the game against Illinois State will help Webster the rest of the year.

“If we play like we did on Sunday for the rest of the season, it’s going to be very hard for another D-III team to beat us, especially in conference,” Dooley said.

Playing against higher competition will help prepare the Gorloks for when they face Division-III and SLIAC opponents. Dooley and Henke believe the game against Illinois State will do just that.

It might not be the last time Webster plays Illinois State, either. Kurich is open to scheduling a game against the Redbirds whenever they need to fill a void in their schedule.

“I’d be happy to play Illinois State every year,” Kurich said. “We’ve talked about that. If they lose a game and need to find somebody, we’d be happy to come up and play them. It’s just a good experience.”

Click here to read about the baseball team’s games against Principia College and WashU.

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