By FHSU SPORTS INFORMATION
The Fort Hays State baseball team returns to Larks Park to continue MIAA play this weekend (March 6-8) when the Tigers host No. 15 Central Oklahoma for a three-game set. The teams open the weekend at 3 p.m. Friday before 1 p.m. starts on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Tigers (11-8, 1-2 MIAA) opened league play with a road win last Friday at Pittsburg State before dropping the final two games of the series. The Bronchos (13-3, 2-1 MIAA) had the opposite experience on the opening weekend of conference action, falling to Newman 11-0 in the opener before bouncing back to win the next two contests.
Fort Hays State 16-19 all-time against the Bronchos dating back to 1984. The teams have split the 10 games played in Larks Park, 5-5. Central Oklahoma has won each of the last six meetings, with the last Tiger win coming on March 5, 2017 in Edmond (8-7).
It is the second time this season the Tigers have played a ranked opponent after taking one of four against No. 23 Colorado School of Mines.
Garrett Stephens continues to be one of the top hitters in the conference, leading the MIAA with 31 hits, six home runs and 55 total bases. The senior catcher ranks second in batting average, slugging percentage, hits per game and runs. Grant Schmidt leads the conference with nine doubles, seventh-most in Division II. Jared Maneth is reaching base in half of his at bats, the fourth-best on-base percentage in the league.
Tyler Olson led the Tigers with seven hits last weekend at Pittsburg State, posting a batting average of .538. Jaxson Webb is coming off a strong weekend as well, recording his first collegiate home run and recording a team-high .889 slugging percentage against the Gorillas.
Tiger pitchers are walking less than four batters per nine innings (3.76), fourth-fewest in the MIAA. Jacob Ensz has a team-best 36 strikeouts on the year, ranking sixth in the conference. The Tigers are 5-0 when Zach Berg gets the ball to start the game. The junior has completed a team-high 29.0 innings on the bump, accumulating a 4.03 ERA while striking out 28 opponents.
Dylan Hamilton is allowing opponents a miniscule .185 batting average over six appearances so far this season, while Brayden Smith has yet to allow an earned run in four appearances.
Like the Tigers, Central Oklahoma has spent little time away from home this season. The Bronchos are 3-1 away from Wendell Simmons Field so far this season, including a 2-0 mark in true road games. Central Oklahoma hangs its hat on its pitching, ranking second in the conference with a team ERA of 3.74. Their pitching staff has struck out 195 batters over just 16 games this season, averaging 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Seven individuals are batting .300 or better for the Bronchos, helping UCO to a .288 team batting average. Garrett Takamatsu and Bennett Laurence both have four home runs on the year, with Laurence driving in a team-best 15 RBI in just eight games. Colton Bertus leads the team with 22 hits, including six for extra bases. UCO has 16 home runs on the year, two shy of Fort Hays State’s 18 homers.