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FHSU gets Lincoln for "Pack the Park"

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University baseball coach Steve Johnson isn't as concerned with his team's opponent this weekend. The Tigers (16-14, 12-13 MIAA) play host to Lincoln (Mo.) University (3-20, 2-16 MIAA) in the team's annual "Pack the Park" at Larks Park. FHSU has a doubleheader starting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and a single game at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Johnson, though, has long focused more on his own team than the opponent -- no matter if it's a bottom feeder or a top-25 squad.

"I know I say this all the time and it's true," Johnson said. "It doesn't really matter who we play. If we go out there and don't have a good approach at the plate and don't throw strike one on the mound, we will lose to anybody. If we do things the right way, if we have a great approach, we can be as offensive as anybody. If we throw strike one, we can be great defensively. We have got to take care of ourselves.

In the most recent NCAA Division II statistical release, Fort Hays stand 17th nationally in homers per game, 20th in batting average and 67th in runs scored. However, the Tigers rank 210th in earned run average. Senior starter Alex Ellison (2-5, 3.99 earned-run average) has been the team's top pitcher. He has thrown 49.2 innings, 12 ahead of every starter on the staff. Ellison has thrown 21.5 percent of his team's innings, the most of any Tiger pitcher in the last four years.

Offensively, Johnson made a recent change when he moved junior centerfielder Clayton Garland, the team's leading hitter, from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 hole. He switched senior shortstop Sam Thornton to the leadoff spot and moved senior third baseman Kelton Rule and senior second baseman Chris Santoscoy farther down in the order.

"I didn't like the way we were set up," Johnson said. "Sam has done a good job all year of getting on base and so has Clayton."