After playing in three nonconference tournaments, the Griffons will finally face a familiar opponent as they begin their conference play against the Northeastern State RiverHawks.
In Western’s previous nonconference tournament, the LAAS Memorial, the team pitched a shutout in the opener, defeating Concordia-St. Paul 3-0. However, they went on to lose three out of the next four games, leaving the tournament with an even 7-7 overall record.
The Griffons open MIAA play on the road against Northeastern State. The RiverHawks are currently 6-4 overall, but have compiled a six-game win streak.
Neither team has played a conference match, but Northeastern State is currently ranked above Western at No. 4 and No. 7 respectively.
Making the transition from nonconference to MIAA play brings different aspects to game preparation that can be both an advantage and disadvantage to the Griffons explained second baseman Tiffany Gillaspy.
“For nonconference, we don’t always know the competition and who’s going to be playing, but in the MIAA, we know the hitters and pitchers. Scouting reports get passed around in the MIAA,” Gillaspy said. “The coaches in the MIAA are returners and know where to pitch us and how our pitchers are. Luckily, this year, Shyanne [Saladino] is new to the MIAA, so it will throw them off. So, right now we are working on being mentally tough and being consistent.”
Saladino transferred to Western, and is now a force inside the circle, leading the team with a 3.62 ERA along with Janie Smith, who is second with a 4.81 ERA.
Western will lean on third baseman Katie Klosterman and left fielder Sydney Washington to lead the offensive front. Klosterman leads the team with a .360 batting average, while Washington is second with a .333 average.
Head coach Jen Bagley-Trotter expects the team’s freshmen to step up, as well, like they have during nonconference games.
“Our freshmen are stepping up in some pretty big situations and producing for us, which has me excited for the future,” Bagley-Trotter said. “We have about 10 days here to get it figured out and put all of the pieces together so we are capable of going in there and taking care of business.”
The RiverHawks will attempt to counter the offensive output of the Griffons with outfielder/second baseman Jessica Boone and shortstop Madison Boyd, who lead their team in batting average with .471 and .455 respectively.
Before MIAA play begins, and to avoid losing close ball games, Bagley-Trotter has an honest answer as to where the Griffons need to improve.
“We have to quite honestly get tougher; thats going to be the big approach,” Bagley-Trotter said.
Although playing regional games is fun, finally preparing, and eventually beginning, MIAA games is exciting for multiple reasons, according to Gillaspy.
“The MIAA is filled with such great competition, and we get to play at home in front of our student body; that’s fun,” Gillaspy said. “MIAA competition is exciting and fun when you know the other team.”
The Griffons continue the road streak with a conference opener against the Northeastern State Riverhawks in Tahleqah, OK. First pitch is set for noon on Friday, March 6.