Senior Jay Hrdlicka Returning With 115 Career Starts

Senior Jay Hrdlicka is returning this season with 115 career starts under his belt. Hrdlicka has an impressive 113 career hits and scoring 75 career runs.

When Northwest baseball stepped up to the plate in its first MIAA outing, success was measured by their strengths in the batting order compared to behind the mound.

The Bearcats (6-7, 2-1 MIAA) put a damper on Northeastern State’s (2-12, 1-2 MIAA) opening conference series as they batted to take two of the three games in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

With a combination of subpar pitching from Riverhawks and strong hitting for Northwest, it became evident the Bearcats would have a good series at the plate scoring an average of 11.6 runs per game. On the other end though, Northeastern State prided itself on its own offensive game. In the end, the two high powered offenses combined for a 35-31 advantage in total runs favoring Northwest.

By the time the series ended, the Bearcats had finished 2-1, with a hole in their arsenal as their need for pitching continued. For a young core of relief and starting pitching, stability was there for youth, but the struggles began with some of the veteran pitchers on the staff. 

With that comes another week of trying to grow on the mound during practice.

“Just getting back to work this week, we got to do some things in practice,” coach Darin Loe said. “Making sure our eyes are on our targets and playing catch with a purpose, and hopefully every throw we make we get a little better at it.”

A common trend that continues to highlight Northwest’s power is its dangerous approaches to opposing pitchers when they line the plate. Northwest scored eight runs in the first two matchups, before doing the improbable and batting over the level they had been. In the third game, the shootout concluded with a score of 19-15 in favor of the Bearcats.

Two of the leaders that catapulted the Bearcats’ chances for victory came from the first baseman position. 

Junior first baseman Connor Quick started the first game of the series going 2-for-4 with five RBIs, with four being attributed to his grand slam. Quick struggled in the second game before getting some rest in the third. 

Sophomore first baseman Matt Gastner relieved him and picked up where he left off as Gastner went 3-for-6 with four RBIs.

“Not just the first baseman, we got two catchers that are swinging the bat real well, both first basemen swinging well and a bunch of guys,” Loe said. “When we’re playing the game the way we want to play it, I think that’s a pretty solid lineup.”

Some of the struggles for the Bearcats were supplied by unlikely players on the team, especially within the pitching staff. The first of the two culprits were junior starting pitcher Joe Funkerhouse, he gave up eight runs in four innings during the lone loss of the series. The other coming from senior closer Trevor Dudar, he went three and two-thirds giving up seven runs in the series finale. 

Heading into that second series of MIAA competition, the players know that their abilities put them in position to be successful. The only issue is if they can use those abilities in every circumstance.

“Biggest struggles are playing down to our competition and not throwing many strikes,” senior second baseman Mondesi Gutierrez said. “I believe once we start throwing more strikes and stop giving up free bases, we will start rolling on teams.” 

Northwest goes into this next weekend against Central Oklahoma in a different fashion than the schedule originally said. Due to weather restrictions, the home opener for the Bearcats has been delayed, and they will instead head to Oklahoma to play the Bronchos.

Last year, the Bearcats shared the MIAA championship with Central Oklahoma and now hope that those first three MIAA games will give them confidence for this pivotal series.

“I guess it is nice getting a restart,” Gutierrez said. “With our two wins in conference, it just helps us roll into games with the confidence we need.”

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