The Fort Hays State baseball team kicks off its 2019 season Tuesday (Feb. 5) against Northwestern Oklahoma State. First pitch from Myers Stadium in Alva, Okla. is set for 3 p.m.
This is the third-straight season that the Tigers and Rangers will match up, with the home team winning all six matchups over the last two years. The Tigers tied things up in the ninth inning before NWOSU walked off in the 13th inning last year in Alva, 7-6, before the Black and Gold outslugged the Rangers in Hays, 18-16.
Northwestern Oklahoma State holds a 14-11 lead in the all-time series that dates back to 1968. Fort Hays State has struggled against the Rangers on the road, going 4-13 in 17 contests in Alva.
The Tigers return multiple starters on offense, including infielder Ryan Grasser and Cody Starkel, outfielders Jordan Wilkerson and Marcus Altman and catcher Dawson Sramek. Grasser led the Tigers with 41 runs scored a year ago while turning in a .415 on-base percentage, second best on the team. Wilkerson clubbed 10 home runs and drove in 34 RBI, both ranking second a year ago. Sramek made just two errors behind the dish, posting a fielding percentage of .987.
Ryan Ruder and Tanner Smith return from last year's starting rotation, with the pair combining to start 22 games last season. Ruder led the team among qualified pitchers with a 7.00 ERA, 70.2 innings pitched and 48 strikeouts. Smith posted a 7.33 ERA across 50.1 innings of work, striking out 45 to account for nearly one strikeout per inning (8.05 K/9).
While Tuesday will be Opening Day for the Tigers, the Rangers are already three games into the new campaign. NWOSU swept a three-game series with Christian Brothers University over the weekend, scoring an average of 11 runs per game while allowing just three per contest. The trio of Carlos Andujar, Justin Bundy and Daschal Johnson all slugged a pair of home runs over the opening weekend.