Tigers travel to Griffons
By CONOR NICHOLL
In 18 years of college baseball, Fort Hays State University coach Steve Johnson has never seen weather like this spring. The Tigers have had constant weather adjustments and multiple games cancelled because of snow or rain. The Tigers narrowly qualified for the MIAA tournament field as the eighth and last seed. However, Fort Hays contests switched from today to Friday because of weather.
The Tigers (23-20, 19-19 MIAA) will play at Missouri Western State University at 3 p.m. Friday to start the best-of-three series. The second contest is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday with the third game, if necessary, at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Griffons won the league championship at 35-8, 28-5 MIAA and stand No. 15 in NCAA Division II. Tiger senior left-hander Tayler Davis (6-4, 5.83 ERA) is scheduled to pitch the first game, with senior right-hander Alex Ellison (3-6, 4.58 ERA) set to go in the second contest.
"You have to play good baseball, because this conference, the MIAA, it's as good as it gets in Division II from top to bottom," Johnson said. "I told someone the other day, in Division II from top to bottom, it's very similar to if you are playing in the SEC."
The Tigers finished the season with a pair of road doubleheader losses to Northwest Missouri State University on April 25. FHSU's postseason status wasn't certain until the next day after the results of University of Nebraska-Kearney and Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University. The conference tournament winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA field. Fort Hays finished as conference tournament runner-up to University of Central Missouri last year.
"We had our ups and downs, but I was very proud of the team for sticking together and continuing to plug away," Johnson said. "We got to where we needed to be. We needed to get in the tournament and we needed to give ourselves a chance, and they were able to accomplish that, so I am happy for them. Obviously, to start the year, we had higher expectations, but that says something for a group of kids that will stick together through hard times and still find a way."
Fort Hays, with 14 seniors, is fourth nationally in batting average at .353, while Missouri Western stands second at .362. As well, the Griffons lead the nation with a .570 slugging percentage and stand second in Division II in homers per game. FHSU is eighth in homers. However, Missouri Western carries a 4.14 ERA, while Fort Hays stands at 6.63.