Baseball gears up to host Emporia State series tonight

Cody Thorn

In only his second year as head coach, Missouri Southern Baseball Coach Bryce Darnell has seen quite a turnaround in the program.

With six scheduled Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association games left this season this year’s Lions squad could become one of the better teams in recent years.

The Lions sport an impressive 19-9 record in MIAA games heading into the penultimate week of play with games against Emporia State and Southwest Baptist left on the schedule.

If Southern could manage two wins out of the last six they would tie the 2001 club for the most wins in league play by a MSSU team since 1999. That 2001 team was 21-7 in league play, but that obviously was before the MIAA expansion added two other teams in recent years.

Missouri Southern split a weekend doubleheader with Northwest Missouri State and lost two games to rain Sunday and those will not be made up.

Southern lost 4-3 in eight innings on Saturday, a day after crushing the Bearcats 20-14.

MSSU is currently 28-15 on the season, which surpassed the total set in 2003. The two closest benchmarks that this year’s team could surpass is 29 wins in 2002 and 32 in 2000. The 2001 team had 36 victories.

The Lions have 10 games remaining this season as the week started and the team will have quite a test this weekend when Emporia State visits. However, the Lions have lost only seven of 25 games at Joe Becker Stadium this spring.

The Hornets are ranked No. 3 in the NCAA Division II polls and with a 25-3 record in MIAA play locked up a berth in the MIAA Postseason Tournament.

Southern, at this point, is still battling for one of the four automatic berths into the series in Kansas City, Kan. The Lions are now sitting in fourth place, based on winning percentage. Southern is fighting Central Missouri and Fort Hays for the final tournament berth.

The Hornets are 36-6 overall and have won 11 in a row and 18 of 19 games, the only setback was a loss to Missouri Western April 5.

It isn’t very hard to see the key to the Hornets’ success this spring lays within its pitching staff. The team’s top three starters all sport earned run averages below 3.00 and all three have at least five wins.

Ryan Anthony is 7-1 with a 2.17 earned run average. Tyler Applehans is 6-1 with a 2.97 E.R.A and Ben Graham is 5-2 with a 2.62 E.R.A The trio has a combined 167 strikeouts and only 49 walks this year.

The MSSU offense, though, seems to be clicking. In the last 11 games, including nine victories, Southern has averaged a little more than 10 runs per game and has scored 11, 12, 16, 20 and 22 in five of those nine wins.

Southern will counter with a formidable pitching staff as well, led by CJ Maffei, who is 7-3 with a 2.84 E.R.A and 62 strikeouts in 66 innings. Maffei and Carter Lance (6-1), are expected to pitch against the Hornets.

“Emporia State has an outstanding team,” said Head Coach Bryce Darnell. “We need to play good defense against Emporia State and continue to compete hard and we will have a chance to win every game.”

The weekend series against Emporia State starts at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by a 1 p.m. game on Saturday and then a noon game Sunday at Joe Becker Stadium.