LEBANON — Like many college baseball teams, McKendree University has battled inconsistency in the early portion of its schedule.
The Bearcats are 11-9 overall and 6-6 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference despite losing their last four games to Lewis, one of the top teams in the league.
And while his team's performance has been acceptable considering its inexperience, coach Jim Boehne believes better days are ahead when the Bearcats' pitching, hitting and defense come together.
"We're off to a good start," Boehne said. "Everybody is in the same boat as far as trying to get into a rhythm. Nobody has really gotten into a rhythm. The weekend before, we played well. This past weekend, we didn't play very well.
"Lewis University is a very good club and if you don't play well, you're not going to give yourself an opportunity to win. That's kind of what we've been harping on. We're not worried so much about the other team. It's more or less how we pitch, how we catch it and how we pitch. We didn't do that this weekend."
Playing on its home field Friday and Saturday in Romeoville, Lewis outscored the Bearcats 37-12, with the closest game being a 7-6 decision in the second game of a doubleheader Friday.
McKendree owns a .282 team average and the pitching staff has a 4.75 ERA. Sophomore center fielder Kyle Rutledge (.359, 10 RBIs, five steals), junior shortstop and Belleville West graduate Tony Kossina (.333, seven RBIs, five steals), sophomore third baseman Jake Kline (.313, 18 RBIs, six steals) and sophomore first baseman Jeff Tolliver (.292, one home runs 18 RBIs) have sparked the offense.
"Those four kids have just about played every game," Boehne said. "They're our leaders right now, and they're three sophomores and a junior. It's tough when your best players are still young, but that's the process we're in right now."
The Bearcats have hit just three home runs, but that doesn't surprise Boehne considering the weather has been cold and he never expected to have a power-laden team in the first place.
"We don't have a power club by any stretch," he said. "There have been some balls hit that we thought had a chance to get out of the park, but we're not a power club. We have some guys who are playing very well and we've got some guys who are not up to speed yet."
Freshman left-hander Sam Lidisky, an Althoff High graduate, is 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in five starts and a team-high 32 innings. He has walked just eight and also leads the staff with 16 strikeouts.
"Sam probably had his worst outing this weekend, but we made four errors behind him," Boehne said referring to the 7-6 loss to Lewis in which Lidisky allowed six runs, but only three earned in getting a no-decision.
"Sam is a very good pitcher. He's pitched very well," Boehne said. "He's had two complete games already. I never would have imagined that going into (the season). He's been thrown into a pretty serious role. ... He's thrown a lot of strikes. That's what we preach. As he gets older and gets stronger, he will do nothing but improve."
Junior and Metro-East Lutheran High graduate Jon Trampe (3-2, 2.77 ERA in six relief appearances), freshman Josh Tonozzi (2-1, 2.79 ERA) and sophomore Vince Kiefer (1-2, 3.00 ERA), a New Athens High graduate, also have thrown well.
On defense, the Bearcats have committed 35 errors, a shade under two a game.
"They're young kids. That's inconsistency," Boehne said. "Sometimes it's been the defense, sometimes it's been the hitting and sometimes it's been the pitching. We haven't put it all together. That's for sure. But we do have a young club."
McKendree will play a doubleheader against Bellarmine in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday. The Bearcats will play host to Wisconsin-Parkside in a four-game series Saturday and Sunday.
"We're happy where we are right now," Boehne said. "We're not content, but I think we're off to a good start. It's a jump in the level of play and sometimes we haven't answered the bell, but that's part of going through the process."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.