Lions rolling through MIAA opponents

Pitching for Southern is Richie Gorski during the 2nd game against Ozarks. Southern played at home on Wednesday.

Kristen Stacy/The Chart

Pitching for Southern is Richie Gorski during the 2nd game against Ozarks. Southern played at home on Wednesday.

Missouri Southern (22-5, 13-3 MIAA) sits atop the MIAA standings as the team continues to roll through the regular season schedule. But if the Lions want to keep their position, the next few series will be of paramount importance.

This weekend Washburn (20-8, 14-6 MIAA) comes to Joplin to face the Lions. It is the first of such meetings between the conference opponents this season, and one that could be revisited once postseason play begins.

“Well, most importantly, we’re motivated to get four wins and extend our lead at the top of the conference,” said senior outfielder Axel Johnson. “Washburn has shown that they are a good team, so it’s important for us to head into the weekend focused.”

While Southern is statistically better in a number of categories, Washburn presents a formidable challenge. They rank eighth in team batting average (.309), far over the Mendoza line and only .011 behind the third ranked Lions.

And in the other category of importance, pitching, Washburn sits even closer, just four slots behind Southern.

As the games come and go, the Lions have proven they know how to win, often by any means necessary. Destroying opponents, squeaking out close victories or even taking home the W in a 20-16 offensive explosion, Southern continues to find a way.

“I think our record speaks for itself,” said Johnson, “and we plan on solidifying that message to the conference this weekend against Washburn.”

Still leading the charge for the Lions at the dish is junior Chris Hoffman. Hoffman is hitting an alarming .424 up to this point, that coming by way of 99 at-bats. But the story of the latter portion of the team’s success could be attributed to the pop off the bat of junior Jesse Rall.

Rall, who single handedly beat the Gorillas of Pitt State on March 24, has become the designated hitter the position was created for. Climbing the ranks of Southern’s statistics, Rall has compiled a .410 average, 32 hits, eight doubles, and a team-leading six home runs to go with 28 RBIs.

From the mound, the bus is being officially driven. Junior Payton Walker has, for the third straight season no less, shown that this staff is his staff. Starting a team-high seven games, Walker touts a 1.71 earned run average and a 5-1 record, with four complete games and 52 strikeouts in 42 innings. Just this year’s installment of numbers has once again put Walker at the top of the conference at his position in a number of categories.

Washburn and the Lions play three more games over the weekend, with two of those coming today. First pitch is scheduled for 1p.m.