In 16 seasons under coach Tim Funkhouser, the Edwardsville Tigers baseball team has never won fewer than 24 games.
The former Tigers’ star infielder has coaxed nine of those teams to 30 wins or more and guided four of them to the state tournament, finishing second in 2002.
So when Funkhouser starts talking about the large number of quality returning starters and pitchers from a team that was 32-8 and lost to the eventual state champs in the final inning of the Class 4A super-sectional, one needs to listen closely.
“This senior core really understands what goes into it and they appreciate their teammates and the hard work that goes into having the best chance for success,” said Funkhouser, whose teams are 484-130 (.788 winning percentage).
“I think our guys are well aware of where we finished last year. We had that taste of getting close to the final four and ended up losing to the state champion as well. We just didn’t come through on that particular day, but you can tell our guys are using that as motivation and it’s not something that’s haunting us.”
A 16-1 victory against Civic Memorial in the season opener left Funkhouser just 24 wins away from catching his former coach, Tom Pile, to become Edwardsville’s all-time wins leader. Pile had a 509-147 record from 1981 to 1998 with two state championships.
“It means you’ve had a lot of good players and you’ve coached a while,” Funkkhouser said when asked the significance of reaching Pile’s record. “Any time you hit milestones like that there’s a lot of people that go into it.”
Leading the large group of returnees are senior Southern Illinois Edwardsville University Edwardsville recruits Brock Weimer and Aaron Jackson and pitcher Brandon Lloyd, headed to Parkland Comunity College.
A three-year starter at catcher, Weimer hit .430 with 16 doubles, five homers and 33 RBIs as a junior.
“Last year he really came into his own offensively and also played well defensively,” Funkhouser said. “He’s one of the mature, quiet, confident leaders we have.”
Being counted on as a third baseman and pitcher, Jackson hit .450 last spring with eight doubles, four homers and 32 RBIs.
“I think he has a chance to increase his extra-base hits even more, which is saying something,” Funkhouser said of Jackson, who was 5-2 on the mound with an 0.82 ERA.
Lloyd emerged as one of the aces last year, compiling a 9-0 mark with a 0.71 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 49 innings. Funkhouser admires the velocity generated by the 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior right-hander.
“It looks like he’s going to be very sharp,” Funkhouser said. “He’s a great competitor as well as having good stuff and a good arm. He’s kind of a pitch-maker. He’s got a repertoire of pitches and he’s got very good command.”
As if returning most of his starters wasn’t good enough, Funkhouser has a strong sophomore group also pushing for playing time.
“It’s probably the most guys we’ve had back,” he said. “You can just tell the familiarity in practice when you’re going about your business.”
Returning on the infield are Jackson at third, senior Wabash Valley recruit Jordan Hovey (.234, three homers 12 RBIs) at short, senior Mitchell Krebs (.352, nine RBIs) at second and senior Bailey Zimmer (.212, nine RBIs) at first.
Hovey is serving as designated hitter while he continues to rehab from arm issues, Funkhouser said.
“We could see him in the field as early as next week,” Funkhouser said. “Right now our main focus is getting his arm healthy.”
Hovey (1-5, 1.48 ERA) was also an integral part of the pitching staff last season.
Junior Jake Garella (.309, three doubles, three triples, 28 RBIs) and junior center fielder Collin Clayton have been seeing time at short while Hovey recuperates.
Garella, on the varsity since he was a freshman, could be another big run producer for the Tigers.
“He’s a guy that’s going to continue to expand his offensive production,” Funkhouser said. “You can really tell he’s settling in and everything has become more familiar.”
Parkland College recruit Fahd Shakeel (.343, seven double, two triples, one homer, 22 RBIs) returns in left, with Clayton (.283, two doubles, 11 RBIs, 30 runs) in center and Parkland recruit Matthew Zielonko in right.
Zielonko had a home run and double in Edwardsville’s season-opening win over Civic Memorial.
Sophomores Dylan Burris, Trey Riley and Mark Smith have also been impressive, Funkhouser said.
The pitching should be a strength led by Lloyd, Jackson, Chris Robinson (2-0, 2.78 ERA) and Hovey. Junior left-hander Tyler Hosto (1-0, 1.11 ERA) is also in the mix along with Garella, Max Kieffer, Riley, Smith and Anthony Kindle.
Knowing what he had back, Funkhouser toughened up an already brutal schedule to add the Dinger Wood Bat Classic in Mayfield, Ky. One of the teams the Tigers will face is nationally ranked Collierville, Tenn., which has six Division I recruits. Moline, which the Tigers beat in the sectional last season, is also on the schedule along with Lockport and Chatham Glenwood.
“We have a loaded schedule and once we get rolling and see how we are, it should be interesting,” Funkhouser said.