Once the Missouri Valley Conference season begins, the focus usually shifts to worrying about performing well on the weekends and staying in the conference hunt.
However, for Illinois State baseball head coach Jim Brownlee, the mid-week contests are just as important to the team's success throughout the season.
Today, the Redbirds travel to DeKalb to face Northern Illinois (11-14) for a 2:30 p.m. game and will then return home on Wednesday to play the third and final game of the season series with the Iowa Hawkeyes (11-11) at 6 p.m. at Redbird Field.
Today's road game will be a challenge for the Redbirds, who have lost the last two games they played in DeKalb. The Huskies, meanwhile, have won six of their last seven games.
"They've owned us the past two years at their place, but we have been close in both games," said Brownlee. "Hopefully, our bats will stay hot from Sunday's win and we can go up there and get another crucial road victory."
Junior Dan Frega (0-2, 6.66 ERA) will take the mound for ISU against the Huskies, but look for other Redbird pitchers to get some time on the mound.
"In these mid-week contests, we try to get as many people work as possible and still give ourselves a chance to win," said Brownlee. "Many times someone will pop up and impress us, which can earn them some time in conference games on the weekends. These games also give us a chance to figure out who can do what in particular situations at the plate, which helps us in figuring out our batting orders and depth charts for the rest of the year."
Iowa won the first game of the year 10-0 at the Austin Peay Invitational, but ISU got revenge in Iowa City, Iowa, with a 7-4 victory.
"Because my son, Ryan, is on the staff at Iowa, there's always some bragging rights involved in the series each year," said Brownlee. "It would be nice for us to win the series and have those bragging rights, but it will be more important that we play well, so we can head out Thursday on a high note to face Creighton for a tough weekend Valley road series."
Normal Community product Luke Baughman (1-2, 7.09 ERA) is penciled in as the starter for against Iowa, and will look to earn his second victory of the year against the Hawkeyes following his win a week ago in Iowa.
Golf team in tie for third
The ISU women's golf team sits tied for third place overall and tied for second among Missouri Valley teams at the end of the first day of the Missouri State Payne Stewart Memorial Invitational in Springfield, Mo. Carding a 36-hole score of 651, ISU shot 333-318.
"Today was a pretty tough day weather wise," said ISU coach Pina Gentile. "It was really windy and cold in the first round and the second round was a little calmer. We had a couple of bad holes that cost us a lot of shots in that first round."
Samantha Richdale had the lowest round for the Redbirds - a 75 in the second round. Her first round of 80 totaled a 36-hole score of 155, good enough for a tie for third place. Hilary Anderson, who shot the second lowest round of the day for ISU, is tied for 10th place with 159 (79, 80). Ashlie Rose, turning her score around from round one, is tied for 27th place with 168 (90, 78).
"The thing that really hurt us was a couple holes," said Gentile. "Sam took a nine on a par three, adding six extra strokes. Some of those difficult holes helped elevate our score higher then what we want them to be.
"We can only hope we play those holes better and take it from there. Every round will help us prepare for conference and the turn around in scores from the first round to the second round shows we are getting better."
Arkansas-Little Rock is in first place at the end of day one with a 36-hole score of 621. Host Missouri State is the leading Valley team and sits in second with 645. Tied for third place with Illinois State is Bradley.
Following ISU is Oral Roberts in fifth with 653. Southern Illinois sits in sixth, Drury University is in seventh, Northern Iowa is in eighth, Northeastern State is in ninth and UMKC is in tenth. Following tenth is Creighton, South Dakota State, Evansville, Eastern Illinois and St. Louis.
Gentile is confident in where her team stands heading into day two.
"I feel pretty good about our position faring with other schools," said Gentile. "Every time we tee up, I like to think that we get better. As we go into tomorrow we look to shave some strokes here and there. Four scores in the 70s would be great."
The Redbirds head into the final day of the tournament with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start Tuesday, April 4 at the Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield, Mo.