NORMAL — Having reached 20 victories quicker than it has since 1987, the Illinois State baseball team begins defense of its Missouri Valley Conference regular season co-championship today.
The 20-7 Redbirds meet 20-6 Creighton at 4:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
ISU will start senior right-hander Corey Maines (5-0, 1.91 ERA) on the mound today. Creighton counters with lefty Ty Blach (5-0, 2.25). Brad Sorkin will be the Redbird starter on Saturday with Ryan Camp getting the call Sunday.
“Creighton is one of the premier defensive teams in the country. Their pitching is very good,” ISU coach Mark Kingston said. “Offensively, they find a way to score enough runs to win. They have one of the premier hitters in the league in (outfielder Trever) Adams.”
Kingston expects catcher Matt Mirabal, who has missed the past four games with a sprained thumb, to return to the lineup today.
The ISU coach believes freshman pitcher Johnny Lieske will see action in the second half of the season. Lieske has yet to take the mound while recovering from minor elbow surgery.
“Because Johnny is going to be a pro prospect at some point, he may only be here three years anyway,” said Kingston, dismissing the possibility of a redshirt season. “He’s getting very near the end of his rehab. He could give us a real spark.”
Outfielders Ty Wiesemeyer and Eric Aguilera will miss the remainder of the season with wrist injuries. Both of the Heartland College transfers will take a medical redshirt.
Around the Valley: Wes Neece, a sophomore from Lincoln, batted .444 for Southern Illinois last week and is hitting .311 for the season.
Seven of the eight MVC teams have nonconference records at least seven games over .500. The lone losing mark belongs to Southern Illinois at 8-19.
Bradley has more wins before opening conference play (18) than it has since 1989.