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Tigers on road for final MIAA series

4/24/2014

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University baseball team lost nine straight games in early season to drop to 3-12. Two MIAA series splits followed, and, on March 24, the Tigers stood at 7-16, 6-14 MIAA.

A month later, FHSU is 10-9 in its last 19 games and has a shot at finishing in the top eight in the league standings and qualifying for the MIAA conference tournament. The winner of the conference tournament earns a NCAA Division II tournament berth.

"Sitting back a month ago, if you would have said going into the last week that mathematically you are going to be alive and have a chance to get in, that would have probably been taken by a lot of people," coach Steve Johnson said.

Fort Hays enters the final weekend of games at 17-25, 14-22 MIAA and travels to Missouri Western State University for doubleheaders Friday and Saturday. The Friday doubleheader start at 4 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. in St. Joseph, Mo. The Griffons are fourth in the league at 24-17, 20-14 MIAA.

"Missouri Western is going to be good," Johnson said of the defending MIAA champions. "We are going to have to get four quality starts, and then we are going to have to have guys go out and compete on the mound and continue to do what we have done. We have been playing solid defensively. Our lineup has really come around and started to score."

Fort Hays ranks 12th out of 14 teams in the league. Northeastern State (Okla.) University currently holds down the eighth spot at 17-19 in the league. Teams eight through 12 have winning percentages between .472 and .389.

"We have gotten to that point," Johnson said. "We still have a ton of work to do, and we are still going to need some help, but at least there is that opportunity to go and have a great road weekend, try to get three out of four or all four maybe are needed."

Since the nine-game losing streak -- the last eight against Missouri Southern State University and University of Nebraska-Kearney -- FHSU has mainly split series.

Two weekends ago, Fort Hays went to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University and dropped three of four, but then bounced back with its first series victory when it took three of four last weekend versus Lindenwood (Mo.) University.  

Clayton Garland leads the Tigers with a .430 average, third best in the MIAA, while Tyler Patty has been Fort Hays' best starter with a 2-5 record and 7.28 earned-run average in a team-high 50.2 innings.

"I have swung it pretty well, it's just frustrating when you don't see the wins come with it," Garland said. "But it's been a fun year and look forward to (this) weekend."

Ryan Degner leads the Griffons with a .372 average, while Jake Schrader has 11 homers.

"That's a place that I thought we needed to go in and at least needed to split," Johnson said of SBU.

"I thought it was a matchup where we could have got three out of four. Outside of that, this team has shown a lot of character to be so far out of it, and then always find a way to split a weekend."