Created:Thursday, March 7, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT
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Sisler excelling right out of the box

By STEVE NITZ - snitz@shawmedia.com
Northern Illinois University baseball player Brian Sisler (left), a 2012 DeKalb High School alumnus, chats with a teammate between drills during practice Wednesday at the DeKalb Recreation Center in DeKalb. Sisler, who played three sports at DeKalb, has benefitted from focusing solely on baseball in the offseason. His .289 batting average is second-best on the team. (Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@shawmedia.com)

DeKALB – Brian Sisler remembers the anxious feeling he had for his first collegiate baseball game.

Northern Illinois was in Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech at the Brooks Wallace Memorial Classic. It was a long way from DeKalb High School, where Sisler was a key player for the Barbs, and a member of their 2010 team that took second place in Class 3A.

Like any normal freshman, Sisler had some butterflies, which NIU’s veteran players said are perfectly normal for someone in his situation.

“I remember that first game – they said, ‘Are you nervous?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ They all said ‘good,’ ” Sisler said. “They all understand it’s the first game of Division I baseball, it’s natural to be nervous for that.”

Sisler’s first NCAA at-bat didn’t turn out too well as he struck out looking against Red Raiders starter Dominic Moreno in the second inning of NIU’s 8-0 loss. But throughout the Huskies’ first 11 games, Sisler hardly has looked like a freshman.

His .289 average is good for second on the team, he has one of the Huskies’ two home runs, and his five RBIs are one behind team leader Alex Klonowski. Sisler also sports a .386 on-base percentage, the Huskies’ second-best mark behind Jamison Wells.

Huskies coach Ed Mathey said he watched Sisler about 10 times during his prep career. Throughout this young season, Mathey has watched a player who to him hasn’t played like someone who was playing high school ball a couple miles away last spring.

“I think the biggest thing I can tell you about Brian is you don’t think he’s a freshman when you watch him play,” Mathey said. “He’s got a pretty mature approach. He’s a pretty focused individual.”

Sisler has benefited from focusing on baseball full-time in the offseason. At DeKalb High, he was the starting quarterback in the fall and the Barbs’ point guard over the winter. There wasn’t a lot of baseball work outside of the spring and summer months.

“As soon as basketball season ended, that was when baseball started,” Sisler said. “I kind of kept everything separated. I liked to focus on football when it was football season, basketball when it was basketball season, baseball when it was baseball season.”

Over the summer, Sisler came in and worked out on his own, built up some muscle, and got his chance to work over the offseason.

Mathey likes taking on three-sport athletes because of the potential they can reach once they focus on a sole sport. In players like Sisler, he sees upside and work ethic.

“There’s a couple things about three-sport guys for me. One, they’ve got more skills to get better cause they’ll be focusing. The other thing about three-sport guys is they’re used to being busy year-round,” Mathey said. “And now, when you get them into college and they’re playing one sport, they’re busy with that year-round and they’re going to work at it year-round, because that’s the timetable they’re used to.”

Coming into the season, Sisler had a goal of starting, even if it was at second base, where he had been told he would play. However, he’s worked at his game at shortstop with infield coach Marvin Sanchez, and took time in the fall to refine his swing.

As a freshman, Sisler also has soaked in the advice of NIU’s veterans.

Although the players are bigger and stronger, the ball is hit harder and the pitching is better, Sisler realizes the game is still the same.

“It’s still baseball,” he said. “You’re still playing catch; you’re still throwing it. It just comes down to fundamentals, and confidence is also a big role.”

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