As snowflakes continued to blanket the Northwest campus, the baseball team fought valiantly against overpowering foes in its southern tour.
The Northwest baseball team surrendered a 2-5 record during their trip to Oklahoma and Arkansas. After a 1-3 start to the season, the Bearcats only way out was to push themselves harder to claim victories over their favored opponents.
Henderson State’s tournament provided that relief, but in a way that the naked eye could not tell they were progressing. The Bearcats clawed their way to a 1-2 record against the top-tier programs in Division II and stood triumphantly over the No. 10 team in the country, Southern Arkansas, 16-13.
“You have to take the positive aspects out of the beginning of the season and run with those and learn from your mistakes so you do not continue to make them,” senior catcher Jay Hrdlicka said. “Although we didn't start out with the numbers of wins and losses we wanted, we showed we can compete with anybody we play.”
The 2-5 record Northwest showcases is reminiscent of last year’s squad when they battled tough opponents to an unideal record. But this year is different, as they fell just short compared to a blowout, with them losing those two games in the tournament by a total of four runs.
In close games like that, the little things are the reason for adding a loss to the board. For the Bearcats, the biggest thing seems to be the defensive side of the ball.
Over the course of the first seven games, the Bearcats have made 13 errors and surrendered four unearned runs.
A large part of these miscues can be reallocated toward the weather in Maryville. Bearcat Field is a natural surface, as were the locations of the teams they played, but with the snow forcing Northwest inside Hughes Fieldhouse with its turf, there was no advantage for the Bearcats.
“Bottom line: We have to play more games and get that game experience. Any Midwest baseball coach and player have to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation,” coach Darin Loe said. “We just have to clean up things here and there, and we will be alright.”
Within the scale of baseball, there are three evenly distributed weights of of success: defense, pitching and hitting. Two of those weights are lopsided hurting the team, as hitting remains a strong suit. Pitching has been a struggle for the Bearcats on the season as they have only allowed less than eight runs twice this season.
Though the team has been faltering on two aspects of the game, the third remains strong. Over the three-game stint, the Bearcats scored 28 runs on 35 hits. One of the leaders for Northwest’s offensive arsenal is Hrdlicka, who is batting .400 to start the year.
“Being able to scrimmage live in Hughes Fieldhouse in the weeks leading up to our first games was probably the biggest factor in the success of our hitting during our first road trip,” Hrdlicka said. “We took all of our scrimmages and at-bats very seriously leading up to our first games, and it is definitely paying off now.”
Next on the Bearcats’ agenda is a trip to a more familiar location as they head down south to Joplin to play in the Missouri Southern tournament. The tournament was moved from a trio of games starting Feb. 14 and ending on the 15, to being pushed one day ahead of schedule.
The array of opponents for the Bearcats will be different from their last tournament as they go up against a heavily favored northern set of opponents. The tournament will consist of University of Missouri-St. Louis and a doubleheader against Rockhurst and MIAA foe Missouri Southern.
“The biggest effect of having one less day to prepare for Joplin will probably be our pitchers getting less rest in between outings than they are used to,” Hrdlicka said. “It is always tough for pitchers to throw on short rest, but our guys are working extremely hard to get prepared and will be ready to go come game time.”