JACKSON, Miss. — Wintertime typically isn't kind to outdoor athletics in Illinois.
But the Eureka baseball team isn't willing to wait for the weather to warm up to get started.
This weekend, the Red Devils will open baseball season more than 650 miles south of home when they compete in the Millsaps Invitational at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.
There, EC will play three non-conference games in three days before heading home to prepare for next week's St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season-opening series at home against Westminster.
The action begins 4:30 p.m. Friday against the host school, Millsaps.
Then, on Saturday, the Red Devils will face Centenary College at 3:30 p.m. before taking on Edgewood on Sunday at noon.
"We're looking forward to getting on a baseball field for the first time," third-year coach Jerry Rashid said, "and competing against two teams from the south who, like most southern teams, will be way ahead of us.
"Our goal is to compete with new pitchers, a young staff and a couple of experienced guys who I think will be good anchors for our ballclub."
Eureka is coming off a season in which it went 16-20, marking the first time the program reached 16 wins since 2010 and only the second time since 2000. Despite a slew of season-ending, the 2019 Red Devils were in the majority of the games they played and put themselves in position to finish over .500.
The 2020 Red Devils were voted to finish fourth in the SLIAC West Division by coaches in the preseason poll.
"We have probably the best team speed that we've had since I've been here," Rashid said. "We're really excited that we'll be — hopefully — exciting on the basepaths."
With the graduation of First Team All-SLIAC and Second Team All-Region center fielder and leadoff hitter Sean Green alone, the Red Devils have plenty of offense to make up.
One bat that the team will look to to fill the void is Kyle Christman, a junior transfer from Illinois Valley Community College.
The Red Devils' pitching staff returns its top two starters in sophomore lefty J.D. Theile and junior right-hander Greg Cluskey. Brock Pettit showed promise as a freshmen in 2019. Cashdollar, the veteran reliever and occasional starter, remains a valuable option in the bullpen, along with last year's closer, Mason Diederich.
The team will also benefit from redshirt sophomore David Throw's return from injury.
"We're confident in the pitching staff," Rashid said. "We think we improved it a lot, with the recruiting that we've had, and the experienced guys coming back."
Rashid is also interested to see how the pitching staff's newcomers will fare in Mississippi — and throughout the spring.
"They're green," he said. "They're untested, but as they develop through the season, we think they're going to be very effective."