The Prairie Stars from Illinois-Springfield have never been nationally ranked, won their conference championship, or made it into the NCAA Tournament.
But so far this season, it seems all that is bound to change with UIS currently 23-4 through April 4, following an 0-3 start to their season. That’s 23 wins in their last 24 games to put themselves firmly in the conversation as one of the best teams in D2 Baseball right now.
What has been the secret to the huge run of success that has seen the team build separate winning streaks of eight and fifteen games? A simple message from head coach Chris Ramirez: “Do what it takes to win now, then do what it takes to win later.”
In his fifth year leading the Stars, this is Ramirez’s best team, and it relies mainly on a mature, experienced roster that just narrowly missed making the D2 Playoffs last year.
“We had a strong core of returners to the team this season when the opposite happened last year with so many new hitters and pitchers,” says Ramirez. “We had roughly 80 percent of our innings pitched last year return along with the D2 home run leader, Michael Rothmund.”
“In all honesty, we got beat twice down there, but gave one away with a blown save,” said Ramirez. “But we did not panic, and we knew we liked our roster. We just had to tell the guys that nothing is handed to them and they had to earn every win.”
A simple message, but one that has paid huge dividends for the No. 10 team in the country via both the NCBWA Poll and Bennett Rank by HERO Sports. (Check)
The Stars are winning games in numerous ways, too.
A team that relies heavily on the power and dangerous potential of their lineup – 39 HR through 27 games — has actually seen more results from timely pitching and ‘small ball.’
“Our bullpen has won us some games,” Ramirez said. “We have also had to rely on small ball more than usual due to less offensive-type weather conditions.”
Ramirez added that maybe just four of the games the Prairie Stars have played in could be considered good weather. No rain or snow to deter the offense, but the bitter cold has made the team find other ways to generate offense.
“Our first rule is that there are no excuses. It forces us to actually play baseball,” said Ramirez.
Complacency and even fatigue are potential concerns considering the length of the season. But there are actually some good problems coach Ramirez laid out when looking forward.
“Our challenge is to sharpen up our play, and find out how we will fill a few roles through competition,” the former High Point player stated. “We have about three or four left fielders, three or four third basemen, and nearly eight relievers who we have been rotating through the lineups every night.”
UIS has 23 games left to not only secure their spot in the postseason, but to prepare to do damage.
“We felt snubbed last year but we know that a few losses early in the season held us back from making it in,” told Ramirez. “Through 20 games we were roughly 10-10 and ended on a hot streak. Now we are getting the hot streak through the middle of the year and taking care of the business we need to.”
Make sure you keep an eye on UIS as the season progresses to see if they can reach any of the goals they have set forth as a program. A team climbing the national ranks and becoming one of the biggest stories in college baseball period, it all falls back to winning one game a time and happening to stack them into 23 of 24.
Because for Chris Ramirez and his team of Prairie Stars, their plan is as as simple as the message to win: “We don’t ever plan on losing.”
The way they have been playing, we may not see it happen for quite some time.