NIU baseball: Brian Sisler thrives at home

By Steve Shonder

Junior shortstop Brian Sisler has been one of baseball’s best hitters for the last two seasons, but he’s been one of DeKalb’s best players for years.

Sisler, a DeKalb native, is living out a dream: the chance to play for his home team. After getting an offer to play baseball for NIU, he “jumped on it,” and there have been no regrets since.

“I take some pride in it,” Sisler said. “I take pride in the school, and I take pride in the area; try to represent it as best I can.”

Sisler is tied for the team lead in batting average (.324) with junior Stephen Letz, and he leads the team with 44 hits. He’s been making that kind of impact at the plate since he started playing at NIU, and little has changed.

“He brings consistency,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “He’s obviously been really good — this year and last year. He’s come up with some big hits when you need him and he’s been a big leader for our offense.”

Sisler started out strong heading into his first year of college ball after having been a three-sport athlete at DeKalb High School. But, he ended up encountering a slump toward the middle of the season, which caused a major dip in his batting average. He wasn’t able to shake his funk until the season was nearly over.

He’s turned that initial slump into a learning experience that’s helped guide him over the last two seasons.

“I just try to stay a little bit more relaxed,” Sisler said. “Freshman year, I started out alright, and then I started going through a little slump. I started freaking out; I kind of forgot the length of the season is 56 games. You’re going to have peaks. You’re going to have valleys.”

Besides being more relaxed at the plate, Sisler has been taking a more measured approach to hitting, focusing on finding a hole in the field.

“Coach [Kunigonis] says the secret to hitting is just to have a plan, and … my plan is just to stay toward the middle of the field,” Sisler said. “There are a lot of hits there. When you get away from that plan, your average dips and you start striking out more. It’s just maintaining that approach.”

Defensively, Sisler has dramatically increased his range at shortstop. His 13 errors may rank second on the team, but he’s been able to get to balls no one else can, which has limited the damage opponents can do with a hard hit groundball.

“He’s getting to balls now that his freshman year would have been base hits,” said junior catcher Johnny Zubek. “Now they’re routine outs. That’s huge for a pitcher and a defense to know you have a guy out there that’s able to make those plays. That’s a testament to Coach Luke [Stewart] and Coach Connor [Duckhorn]; they’ve been working on his footwork and his throwing. But also to his hard work because he’s always out here after practice, before practice, getting ground balls and working on stuff.”

While the offseason work he’s put in — trying to get faster and work with coaches — has helped enormously, Sisler has also been relying on his experience to help him improve. Being able to get to a ball is one thing, but he’s working on reading the ball off the bat to help give him that extra jump on the ball.

That combination of physical and mental talent has paid off in a big way for Sisler and the Huskies.