Throwing the MIAA a curveball
Winning a championship in college is a difficult feat, regardless of the sport or the division in which it is won, but repeating a championship always proves to be even more difficult. For Missouri Western's 2014 baseball team, this feat to once again be MIAA Champions, which begins on Saturday, May 3, will be a very difficult task. Last year, during the 2013 baseball season, Missouri Western went 28-5 in the MIAA and 40-12 overall, when they won the MIAA tournament and had the best record in the MIAA. This year, the team is currently sitting in third place, with a 19-11 record in the MIAA, and 23-14 overall. The team is still very much in contention to have a run at the MIAA tournament title, with only the University of Central Missouri clinching a spot in the tournament. When comparing the champions season of 2013 to the current 2014 season, two things become obviously clear: this 2014 team has already conceded over twice as many loses as last year, and few players returned from last season. Only 10 players have experience at Western. The issue with the 2014 team isn’t a lack of talent, as some might assume, but a lack of chemistry between the players. Many of the 2013 championship team graduated, including Michael Schulze and Grant Fink, who were drafted into the MLB, leaving the team in somewhat of a rebuilding stage. Any team that has a change as dramatic as losing over half of its players will need time to click. Through the first 10 games, the 2014 team lost only one more game than the year before, despite the team still working out kinks and unfamiliarity. As far as the stats are concerned, the numbers can show a clear difference from the championship team. Ryan Degner, who has the highest batting average at .377 for the 2014 season, would have been tied for third with Kyle Simpson in last year’s statistics behind Schulze and Fink, all of who are no longer on the team. The highest batting average of a returning player is Dylan Koch with a .341, which would have been good enough to tie for sixth last year. Pitching, is also a struggle compared to last year. Tyler Sanders's 3.14 ERA would have only been good enough to be fourth on last year’s roster. The highest ERA of a returning pitcher, Mark Spreckels’s 3.66 would have had him at seventh on the roster for last year, and is down from his 3.21 ERA in the 2014 season. That was third best of the season. Even with all of the negatives pointed out, the most important stat to consider when placing bets on if the 2014 team will again be MIAA tournament champions is their win streak. Across every sports team heading into the post season, it’s all about who is hot, and, right now, Western is hot. Now on an eight-game win streak, which trumps the one-game winning streak of Central Missouri and the three-game winning streak of Central Oklahoma University, who are first and second in the MIAA, respectively. With only eight games left until the MIAA tournament, Western will play No. 1 Central Missouri and Fort Hays State University, currently in twelfth position. If they can survive these last few games and not lose their rhythm, they will have me putting down some money on them for a repeat. And even if they can’t manage the repeat, they will be the team to beat in 2015.