Streaking Tigers 'flip the script'

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
FHSU's Garrett Stephens is greeted by Kade Wallace after Stephens hit a home run on Sunday against Northwest Missouri State.

Two weeks ago, the Fort Hays State baseball team was mired in a 12-game losing skid and had just two wins to its credit on the season. 

Following a sweep at the hands of Northeastern State, FHSU coach Jerod Goodale called a team meeting, knowing the Tigers were at a crossroads in their season. 

"I felt like it was a turning point," Goodale said. "We could have felt sorry for ourselves and cashed it in."

Instead, the Tigers responded by putting together a six game-win streak that has FHSU firmly in the thick of the race to make the MIAA Tournament. 

FHSU completed a three-game sweep of Northwest Missouri this past weekend at Larks Park. The Tigers won the opener 12-5 on Saturday and completed the sweep with 10-8 and 14-3 wins on Sunday. 

"It's a breath of fresh air," Goodale said of the mood around the Tigers. "That pressure, it gets to everybody, coaches, players. It's no fun when you're dreading going to the yard or you're just kind of waiting for something bad to happen. We were able to flip the script. 

Grant Schmidt led the way on Sunday with three hits 3-for-6 at the plate and drove in five runs on the day. Schmidt had two home runs in the day, while Kade Wallace, Griffin Brunson and Garrett Stephens also homered. 

The Tigers' turnaround started in earnest with a three-game road sweep of Missouri Western on April 9-10. All three wins were lop-sided for the Tigers (12-4, 13-5, 12-2). 

Goodale said all season long he had felt the Tigers (8-20, 8-16 MIAA) were on right on the cusp of turning things around. 

"We've been in most of the games we've played in until one bad inning or one bad mistake. Then the pressure starts mounting on the guys," he said. "Last weekend was huge to do that on the road. Any time you get a road sweep, it's big. We played well in all three facets of the game.

"A few key hits last weekend, and it kind of just snowballed. That was kind of my hope this whole time."

The Tigers have put up double-digit runs in each game during the win streak. 

"I've been as excited about this club offensively just as much as any club I've ever been on, even great teams that could really swing it," Goodale said. "I feel like they're playing looser, they're playing more confident. They're expecting to win."

Pitching was solid for the Tigers in the Northwest series. 

Padriac Walsh (2-0) went 5.1 innings to earn the win in the first game on Sunday.  Walsh allowed seven runs on nine hits and struck out three. Jake Steinbring and Jacob Ensz both turned in strong outings in the bullpen. 

Hunter Parker (2-2) took the win in Game 2, going six innings. He allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out three.

"Just getting one of our starters back in Paddy (Walsh) a couple weeks ago, it made a huge difference," Goodale said. "We were able to get Hunter Parker back in the rotation, and Jacob Ensz is throwing the ball really well right now, Jake Steinbring is throwing the ball really well right now. 

"Guys have kind of settled in to roles and we've had a consistent lineup the last couple weeks. The fruits of that are starting to show."

The Tigers are in 10th in the MIAA standings, two games back of the No. 8 spot. The top eight teams make the MIAA tournament. 

FHSU has a great chance to make up more ground next weekend with a three-game home set against Washburn, which sits sixth in the conference with an 11-13 mark. 

"It's hard to explain the bad start other than we're playing good teams and it's just a few things," Goodale said. "But this is a team that if we get hot, we can play with any team in the country and beat any team in the country, especially when we're getting good starts out of the pitchers. 

"Washburn's obviously a huge (series). They're ahead of us in the standings. We control our own fate."