Fort Hays State was picked ninth in the 2016 MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll, released Friday. FHSU enters its sixth season under head coach Steve Johnson.
Fort Hays State looks to snap a two-year absence from the conference tournament. The Tigers finished ninth in the standings last year, just one place shy of qualifying for the tournament. FHSU also looks to snap a two-year string of finishing with a sub-.500 record.
The MIAA changed its regular season format for the 2016 season. Each team is scheduled to play the other 13 schools in the conference three times, creating a 39-game conference schedule. FHSU has 11 non-conference games scheduled before starting MIAA play Feb. 26.
Fort Hays State has two All-MIAA selections returning from last year in seniors Austin Unrein and Connor Ross. Unrein made 36 starts at third base, six at designated hitter and five in left field, while also serving as the teamís closer on the mound in his junior season. He ranked second in hits (58) and RBI (45), and third in batting average (.326), home runs (11), and slugging percentage (.596) for FHSU in 2015, while recording 24 extra-base hits. On the mound, Unrein recorded three saves and went 3-3 on the year with a 5.68 ERA.
Ross ranked second on the team in batting average at .337. He recorded 24 extra-base hits (14 doubles, one triple, nine home runs) and scored 39 times as the Tigersí leadoff hitter.
The Tigers have two pitchers back with significant starting experience in seniors Justin Hersch and Joe Mapes. Hersch went 3-3 last year with a 6.14 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 48.1 innings of work. Mapes made all of his starts in the latter portion of the season and went 2-1 with a 4.64 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 33 innings of work.
Fort Hays State led the nation last year in home runs per game (1.62) with a total of 76 in 47 games and was among the top 15 nationally in slugging percentage (.523). Three of the top four home run hitters from that team graduated.
Though the Tigers had a potent offense that averaged 7.8 runs per game last year, keeping the other team off the board was a struggle. Opponents averaged 8.4 runs per game and FHSU had a team ERA of 7.52 with 88 errors committed in the field.