By Ethan Booe
For hitters, being able to see the pitch is crucial to making solid contact.
That’s been a key element the last few games for the Fort Hays State University baseball team.
And, that’s also led to the Tigers seeing gradual improvement.
Take, for instance, last weekend’s three-game series with Missouri Southern State University, which entered the weekend ranked No. 9 in the latest NCAA DII poll.
After being held to only two hits in the series opener Friday night, the Tigers erupted for 29 hits in the last two games – including a season-high 18 in the series finale.
“The type of hitters we have on this team have so much talent, but we just haven’t been able to sync up and perform at the same time,” said junior outfielder Grant Schmidt. “So Game 3 was a glimpse at what we are capable of.”
Seeing those signs of improvement is critical for the Tigers this season, who are 2-17 overall and 2-13 in the MIAA as head coach Jerod Goodale works on rebuilding the squad in only his third year (second “full” season) with the school.
After dropping Friday night’s game 12-2 and the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader 16-6, FHSU found itself in a slugfest in Game 2 before eventually falling 18-17.
The third game of the series was a hard-fought battle from beginning to end. The game featured seven lead changes throughout the nearly four-hour contest.
Schmidt was key in the game, going 3-for-5 at the plate while driving in four runs and scoring four times himself.
Kade Wallace, a junior utility player, was happy to see consistent offense throughout a full nine innings. He collected three hits, drove in two runs and scored four times.
“I felt like even though we ended up losing Game 3, it was one of our most complete offensive games we have put together all year,” Wallace said.
That offensive output included five home runs, a season-high for FHSU. Missouri Southern is giving up only 1.71 home runs per game, the 14th-best mark in all of NCAA Division II after the weekend.
The Tigers have been plagued by injuries at key positions this year, especially the pitching staff.
Senior pitcher Ryan Ruder is happy about the way the team has been able to overcome that adversity.
“The two freshmen pitchers, Jayce Meyer and Dustin Menard, have taken on big roles as freshmen and have been competitive,” said Ruder, who is second on the team in innings pitched this season. “We’ve also had a couple guys unexpectedly change roles or positions and have been able to quickly adapt.”
Schmidt is excited about the progress made by Meyer and Menard.
“These two have raw talent and have worked very hard since they got here in the fall,” Schmidt said. “Just seeing how they are performing right now in a tough situation with very little college experience has everyone excited to see what they’re capable of as they mature.”
After an offensive explosion of 17 runs against a top-10 team, the Tigers believe they have an ample amount of confidence going forward in the season.
“We all know what we’re capable of, and we all know how close we are to turning things around,” Ruder said.
Schmidt said the performance in the final game against the Lions is promising for the future.
“No matter who we are facing, with the talent we have, we can definitely hang with the best,” he said.
The Tigers go on the road this weekend to face Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Okla.