The Beck becomes a distant memory

Ian Taylor, Sports Editor

Missouri Southern baseball will open its new playing field in dramatic fashion, hosting the first eight games of this new season, with the second half of those coming against rival Pittsburg State.

The Lions enter this season with a bit of uncertainty because the team was forced to retool its lineup and pitching staff after losing a number of key seniors from last year’s team.

But new completion breeds a new identity, and as Southern approaches the home opener this weekend, the team is ready to find out what they are made of.

“Everyone is competing for a spot,” said senior pitcher Ryan Spry, “which is making everyone else a better player.”

In recent years, the Lions have been near the top of the MIAA conference. Two years ago, the Lions won the MIAA Championship in walk-off style, and they began that last year with a hard-fought 12-0 start to the season, but after losing an impactful chunk of their roster and 26 of their last 38 games a season ago, the squad needed to go back to the drawing board.

“It’s hard to narrow down,” said Spry. “A lot of guys are pitching and hitting really well right now, though,  and staying consistent.”

In the preseason polls, the Lions were picked to finish sixth in the conference this season, a slot Southern would surely look to improve upon, but one that would get them into the post-season conference tournament, a place the Lions fell short of a season ago.

One place the Southern team did hold its own on the home field. That field was in Joplin, true, but it was a stretch for the Lions to call it their own. This season, that all changes with the opening of a brand new state-of-the-art home field. After going a collective 55-21 at Joe Becker Stadium over the last three years, Southern looks to establish similar dominance on the field they really can call home.

Early on, the Lions will rely on leadership to guide them, leadership that comes from upperclassmen like seniors Tee Helsel, catcher Mitchell Osburn and outfielder Robbe Ewing.

On the mound, the top of the rotation could be paced by junior Payton Walker in his third year for the Lions. A season ago Walker posted a 5-5 record, accumulating 59 strikeouts and 3.41 ERA after starting the season on a four-game winning streak, good enough to be named an All-MIAA performer.

Southern opens the 2015 season and its new home field against Upper Iowa on Feb. 14 at noon.