As temperatures remain unfavorable, the prospect of baseball at Northwest seems bleak, but last year’s MIAA champions are ready for the season to start.
Northwest baseball is gearing up for the season as it has an opportunity to defend its title for the first time since 1984.
The Bearcats enter the season hoping to continue the dominance, respect as legitimate threats in the conference. Last year, they accomplished both of those things as they claimed a co-MIAA Championship, the first for the program since 1983.
Though the team is settling back in at full manpower, for the most part, some of the more important faces moved on from their playing days at Northwest.
Three of the five players that hit for the best averages in 2018 all put their playing days behind them including Kevin Handzlik, Landon Figg and Luke Hassman. Joseph Hietpas also joins the graduating bunch as he was the ace for Northwest last year.
“We bring back quite a few pieces but feel we got the talent,” coach Darin Loe said. “Whether it be the transfer players or the freshmen players that we brought in, they will fill in nicely at those spots that were vacated by graduation.”
Although the loss of some key hitters may be significant, the impact of the guys that stayed around will be more so. Last year's batting average leader (.393), senior Hudson Bilodeau, headlines the batting core, but with the addition of senior Alix Herrera’s medical redshirt, this Northwest squad looks scary to MIAA pitchers.
Other key players returning for the year include senior Mondesi Gutierrez, senior Jay Hrdlicka and sophomore Logan Rycraft.
“We have a lot of potential this year; we have more freshman traveling this year that are big additions to the team,” Gutierrez said. “We have a lot of depth in our lineup, and I can guarantee you it won’t be easy pitching to us.”
One certain series that a lot of the players have already marked on their calendar is the Central Oklahoma matchup. As both the Bronchos and the Bearcats ended the season, they shared the MIAA Championship trophy. Both teams are looking on the up-and-up, so that matchup could possibly have championship implications once again.
“I am most excited to see how far our team can go this year,” Gutierrez said. “We tied with UCO last year for conference champs, but this year I’m excited to see how that series with them will be.”
Last season, at times the pitching staff struggled, and at times the pitching staff dominated. For the Bearcats, this will be a point of interest in measuring success.
One of the impacts to this year’s pitching staff will be the addition of freshmen added to the lineup. The first games are scheduled for Feb. 1-3, and for many young Bearcats, it will be their first time trying to make an opportunity with collegiate live pitching.
“(Last year) I think we started 0-4 in our first four games and did not play well early on and were fortunate to overcome some of those things,” Loe said. “We do have some freshmen in our lineup, and it’ll be a first time in a college uniform for those guys, so it's just getting the early season jitters out.”
Whether it be the younger guys stepping in or veteran players showcasing their talents, all Northwest players have the same goal: to repeat as conference champs. It won’t be easy, but for Northwest, it’s all about taking it one game at a time.
“We may have won the conference last year, but that was last year. We have to just take it game by game,” Gutierrez said. “We all have a goal to win conference, but we have to take every game seriously and make sure we are focused.”