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Tigers sweep Washburn at Larks Park

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University baseball team lost three home games last weekend to University of Central Missouri, ranked No. 9 in NCAA Division II, by a combined score of 43-11. Just two days later, the Tigers had to quickly bounce back for Tuesday's home doubleheader against Washburn University.

Fort Hays produced a far better team in all aspects, especially pitching, in a doubleheader sweep at Larks Park. The Tigers won Game 1, 5-3, and earned a 14-2 victory in Game 2 in a contest that was called after seven innings because of the mercy rule. FHSU improved to 5-4, 2-3 MIAA, while Washburn dropped to 2-3, 2-3 MIAA.

"It was a fun day to be on the field, just played the game the right way," Tiger coach Steve Johnson said. "Obviously the biggest thing that set us downhill this weekend was the pitching. We had a bad plan of attack, and we came back and looked at the charts. We were throwing about 57, 58 percent fastballs. Today, we came out with a mission."

Fort Hays met with the pitching staff Monday and Johnson said the Tigers "changed the attitude and the approach." Johnson estimated FHSU threw between 85 and 90 percent fastballs. The Tigers continually pitched ahead in counts and received strong performances from sophomore left-hander Nathan Zimmerman and senior ace right-hander Alex Ellison. Offensively, FHSU had eight hits in the first contest and 14 hits, including three homers, in the second game. Senior Ryan Busboom homered twice in Game 2. FHSU had several sparkling defensive plays, including a pair from senior second baseman Chris Santoscoy. Both of them were diving plays on ground balls.

The first came in the top of the second of Game 2 when he ranged far to his left. Three innings later, Santoscoy made a nice stop on a ball up the middle.

"It was nice to play the way that we are capable of playing," Santoscoy said. "Doing the little things right. Putting everything together -- hitting came together, pitching. Pitching was a lot better today, throwing first strike. I think the most important thing of today's game was strike one. The pitchers were pounding it in there today."

Zimmerman (2-0) had thrown 16.2 innings in his collegiate career before Tuesday, and delivered a career-high five innings. Senior Kyle Leroy delivered two scoreless innings for the save.

"After that (bad) weekend, to go out there and execute the game plan, he filled it up," Johnson said. "I think he threw six off speed pitches in five innings and did exactly what we needed. He needed to set a tempo. He did that, and it was a big win for him and a big win for us."

In Game 2, Ellison came back on two days' rest after he permitted nine runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings versus Central Missouri. He worked five innings and permitted two runs (one earned) to move to 1-1 this season. Ellison returned to the mound quickly because of the new MIAA schedule that features three weekend games and two midweek contests. For years, the weekend schedule was always four games. Now, Ellison could throw later in the weekend road series versus University of Central Oklahoma.

"He said that he was ready to go and that is something that we are going to have to be aware of, too, is we are in a different format," Johnson said. "Last year, a lot of times, if No. 1 gets roughed up, sometimes you stick with him, because you can't burn your pen with a four-game series. This year, with a three-game series, we have that option to get him out."