Koch breaks out in win over UCM

Looks like Dylon Koch’s slump to open the season may be coming to an end. The senior helped Missouri Western to a 10-5 home win against Central Missouri by going 2-for-4 with a team-leading four runs-batted-in. “He’s that type of character kid,” Griffon coach Buzz Verduzco said. “He’s going to fight through anything. Him really struggling through an injury early in the year, in the first series of the year, he’s not going to say anything – he’s going to try and fight through it.” The Griffons improve to 14-7 on the year, while the Mules drop to 10-10. Koch had a 2-for-3 performance in the opener of Sunday’s double-header against Pittsburg State. He drove in six runs in that game and hit a pair of home runs. “I feel way better in the box,” Koch said. “I faced a little bit of adversity in the beginning of the year. As an athlete you go through times like that. Had it been the middle of the year it would have just been a slump, but the beginning of the year its tough to fight back.” The second baseman wasn’t able to go deep with either of his hits on Tuesday, but did have a pair of two-run singles. “[Koch] was able to get a cortisone shot the other day that was able to make him a completely different guy with the pain gone,” Verduzco said. “Now he’s back to his old self and for him to come out and show that leadership that we often need in these type of games against quality teams is big for us.” The fifth-year senior’s batting average improved to .135 and is heating up at the right time with the Griffons being short on position players for the couple series. “Being a fifth year guy, me and Buzz [Verduzco] have been together a long time. He has a lot of trust in me and I know that, so I have a lot of trust in myself.” Outfielders Orencio Fisher and Ryan Degner are both sidelined with injuries. "We have a couple good players out right now. We have to have other players step up. They were prepared for their time to step in… We have a lot of depth on this team,” Koch said. His base-knock in the third inning broke a four-all tie. The hit plated Andrew Ramirez and Cosimo Cannella. Cannella also had a good day at the plate for the Griffons with a 2-for-4 game and a double to go with 2 RBIs. “With our offense as you can see we are explosive,” Koch said. Freshman Jared Lloyd had a rough first start for the home team failing to make it out of the second inning. Only recording four outs, the right-hander from Staley High School gave up three runs on three hits and walked two batters. “Lloyd struggled a little bit, but he’s young,” Verduzco said. “He’s going to be in there a lot of time in the next four years. He’ll learn from this experience and he’ll get better the next time he goes out.” The Western bullpen came in and stopped the bleeding with Matt Russell coming in for Lloyd and getting Western into the fifth inning. The senior gave up two runs but exited with the lead and earned the win. Right-hander Weston Caindec was the pitcher of the night for the Griffons, though. The junior didn’t allow a hit in four scoreless innings. His earned run average dropped to 4.00 in 2015. “[Caindec] pitched four solid innings to be able to put up those zeros when we really, really needed it,” Verduzco said. Tuesday’s game was the only matchup between the Mules and the Griffons and won’t be tallied as a conference game due to the unbalanced league schedule. “Its fun playing UCM every year,” Koch said. “We got to play them once this year and we took advantage of it.” The Griffons will be back in action Friday for a four game weekend series against Washburn in Topeka, Kansas.

Griffons control series with No. 4 Hornets

The Griffons headed to Emporia, Kan. last Thursday and Friday to face off against No. 4 Emporia State in two doubleheaders. The series kicked off MIAA play for Western, but was originally supposed to be held at the Spring Sports Complex. Due to snow, however, the series was transferred to Emporia where Western would be recognized as the home team. Game one of Thursday's doubleheader started just how the Griffons would have wanted it to. Western jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the 1st inning after left fielder Orencio Fisher hit a two-run homer and D'Andre Heggie hit a solo shot to left. Third baseman David Glaude scored after a single from second baseman Dylan Koch. The Hornets rallied in the next three innings to take a 10-4 lead in the 4th inning. Western could only score two more runs, and fell 10-6 to the Hornets. Game two of the doubleheader finished in classic style for the Griffons. Emporia State jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Western scored a run in the 6th, but the offense really came for them in the 9th inning. The Griffons entered the inning down by one run. After Glaude reached on a fielder's choice, center fielder Ryan Degner was able to score a run after an error by the Hornet's shortstop, tying the game at 3 runs each. In walk-off fashion, third baseman Mitch Thorman singled through the right side, scoring Glaude. The Griffons would take the second game 4-3, giving the Hornets their first loss of the season. Head coach Buzz Verduzco was happy with how the game turned out for the team. "A great win, a walkoff win, which we've been on the reverse side over the last couple weeks," Verduzco said. "It was nice to get one on our end." Game one of Friday's doubleheader was a momentous one for Verduzco. Thursday's victory in game two was MIAA win number 299 for Verduzco, so he had the chance to claim his 300th victory in the conference in one of Friday's games. The Griffons controlled the offensive side of the ball, taking the lead in the 2nd inning and holding it for the remainder of the game. A pair of solo home runs from Cannella and Glaude sealed  the 5-1 victory for the Griffons. "There's a collection of really good plays that we really had to have from a timing standpoint in order for us to play at a high level," Verduzco said. With that victory, Verduzco claimed his 300th MIAA victory after 17 seasons as the head coach. Game two of the doubleheader started neck-and-neck. The Griffons scored two runs on two errors in the first, but the Hornets were able to respond with two runs of their own. Western took the lead by tacking on a run in the 4th, 5th and 8th inning. The Griffons would take the final game of the series 5-3. "It was a great weekend for us," Verduzco said. "We didn't really know what to expect after going on the road to Emporia, regardless of being the home team or not. They're always very, very good; they were this weekend. We had to do a lot of things well in order to beat them." They took the series with the No. 4 Hornets 3-1. Western now sits at 6-5 overall and 3-1 in MIAA play. They hit the road again this weekend as they head to St. Charles, Mo. for a four-game series with the Lindenwood Lions. First pitch of game one is set for 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27.

Griffons attempt to rise in MIAA rankings against Lions

Western goes back on the road for their second MIAA series against the Lindenwood Lions after taking three out of four games from former No. 4, now No. 26, Emporia State Hornets. After winning three games against Emporia State, Western improved to No. 3 in the MIAA with a 3-1 conference record and a 6-5 overall record. Meanwhile, the Lions sit at the bottom of the conference at No. 11 with a 5-5 overall record. Lindenwood’s conference play will begin during their home opener against the Griffons. Although Western did not face the Lions during the 2014 season, they have had past success against Lindenwood, achieving the three-game sweep during their regular season series in 2013. Even though the Lions are towards the bottom of the conference, every moment of play is important according to head coach Buzz Verduzco. “Every inning is a crucial pitch, it’s a crucial hitter, it’s a crucial everything,” Verduzco said. The Griffon batters have taken advantage of many crucial pitches of late. Offensively, they are being led by first basemen Cosimo Cannella, who is riding an eight-game hit streak and center fielder Ryan Degner, who has compiled a six game hit streak. Defensively, Western has kept games close from the mound with pitchers allowing only 11 extra base hits and combining for a team 3.66 ERA. The Griffon pitching staff has five pitchers that have not accumulated an ERA, including right-handed pitcher Richard Peoples who was named MIAA/AstroTurf Pitcher of the Week. Verduzco believes that the Lindenwood series could quickly change this season’s story if they do not continue to play consistently at the plate and on the field. “We have to build on it because if we go next weekend and fall on our face it’s a different year now,” Verduzco said. “So we have to do what we can to make sure we play as consistent as we possibly can [and] orchestrate the pitching staff to keep us within striking distance offensively.” The Lions will rely on the offense of senior outfielder Wade Rothermich, who has recorded a hit in eight out of 10 games and is leading the team with a .436 batting average. Lindenwood’s pitching staff only has a combined 6.01 ERA but is led by right-handers Connor Law and Geoff Hartlieb, who have a 1.35 and 2.70 ERA respectively. Early season position decisions are beginning to be settled just in time for the series against the Lions. “We had concerns a couple weeks ago about certain positions – catcher I think we have figured out so that’s a huge plus,” Verduzco said. “A lot of the positions are solidifying.” The Griffons will continue their rise through the MIAA rankings during their second conference series against the Lindenwood Lions in St. Charles, Missouri, beginning on Friday, Feb. 27, at 4 p.m.

Western prepares for MIAA opener versus No. 4 Emporia State

Missouri Western kicks off MIAA play this week as they face No. 4 Emporia State. A series that was originally supposed to be held in Western's Spring Sports Complex has now been moved to Emporia, Kansas. Now, the teams will play two doubleheaders, on Thursday, Feb. 19, and Friday, Feb. 20. The Hornets come into the series ranked No. 4 nationally. They are currently 4-0 on the season. In those four games, they have outscored opponents 47-12, including a 17-6 victory over Metropolitan State University of Denver. Left fielder Price Jacobs is hitting a team-leading .600 average, including 12 hits and two home runs. Catcher Tory Bell is batting a .429 and bringing in eight RBIs. The Hornets were the demise of the Griffons last year. Two victories in the MIAA tournament ended the Griffons' season. Western enters the series 3-4 so far this season. The Griffons had a strong showing against another nationally ranked team. They took two of four against No. 17 Arkansas Tech to open the season, including a 10-4 victory. But two late hits by the Bison of Harding University had the Griffons leaving Searcy, Ark. with just one win. Right fielder Trevor LaHonta is hitting a team-high .429 batting average with 12 hits and three RBIs. First baseman Cosimo Cannella leads the team with five RBIs and is hitting a .417 average with 10 hits. The Griffons are coming off a weekend off and head coach Buzz Verduzco is feeling confident that the issues they had in the first two series are under control. "We've been practicing hard over the last week, since two weekends ago against Harding," Verduzco said. "We did work out some things that I really feel, over the last week and a half, are really catching and have really gotten a lot better. That was one of the concerns we had… that part I feel really good about going into Emporia." Verduzco is in his 16th season as the Griffons' head coach. Overall, he has a 434-327 record. But the story of the weekend is Verduzco's quest for his 300th MIAA victory. He enters the Emporia State series at 298. The Griffons head to Emporia, Kansas, on Thursday, Feb. 19, to play the No. 4 Hornets. First pitch for game one is set for 1 p.m.

Western pitcher has chance to throw again

Like most Griffon athletes, Kyle Kelly is a pretty normal guy. He likes hunting, fishing, trucks and spending time with his family. One thing Kelly can do that most of us “normal guys” can’t is command a breaking change-up. Or come back from Tommy John surgery. Kelly graduated from Lathrop High School in 2011 and signed on as a freshman to play baseball for Missouri Western. He was redshirted the 2012 season, his first season on campus. Then in the 2013 season, he got a chance in the Griffon bullpen, making 17 appearances with two starts. In that time on the mound, he made the most of it going 3-1, having a 2.45 ERA, pitching 40 innings and making the MIAA honor while helping the Griffons win the MIAA championship that season. Coming into the 2014 season, Kelly was very optimistic, but in his first three appearances things didn’t go too well, with him only pitching 1.1 innings and giving up four runs when disaster struck. Kelly had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, requiring the pitcher to go under the famous Tommy John surgery. The surgery is a graft procedure where a tendon form elsewhere in the body is placed in the elbow. The procedure is called “Tommy John” for the MLB pitcher who was the first to have the surgery. Kelly’s graft came from his left wrist and was placed in his right elbow. “It definitely sucks when it happens, but I was optimistic about it. Not that I would see any gain from it, but that I would get to throw again,” Kelly said. Kelly mentioned the gain because it is a common misconception that pitchers get better after the Tommy John surgery. The real reason that some pitchers come back better after the surgery is because of the off-time spent working on their mechanics and strengthening their other pitching muscles. After Kelly had the infamous surgery, he dove right into training to get back on the mound. Kelly said it was six months before he could pick up a baseball, and 12 months for full recovery. At the time of this interview he was only ten months out and almost to a full recovery. He started locked in a full cast where he couldn’t move his arm out of a 90-degree angle. So the first section of his recovery was just getting range of motion back. During that, he spent time strengthening his back and legs. “It was a lot of resistance training, a lot of work with bands and balance balls; I couldn’t do any weight lifting,” Kelly said. By the time Kelly could move his arm again he was in a very strict throwing regiment. Kelly explained it as “all very detailed, the number of throws at this distance, then a number of throws and 5 minutes off, then throw the same amount again." He explained some of his struggles during that time. "The biggest thing for me was finding my release point; I had lost a lot of my timing. Getting that feel for the ball on your fingertips is different,” Kelly said. Kelly went on to explain that before this injury he had not gone this long without throwing a ball or any kind of arm movement since before tee-ball. Kelly also said that technology was a big part in getting him back. “Coach would use his iPad and slow down exactly what I was doing and examine exactly what my body was doing in that point of my pitching motion,” he said. He said this was the biggest factor in getting his mechanics back. The home series facing off against Emporia is set to be Kelly’s return to the field. That date is rapidly approaching and there is still a lot to be done before Kelly gets called out of the bullpen. Kelly said he is still trying to get back the velocity on his fastball that he once had. In previous seasons, Kelly touched 87 mph on his fastball - he says now he is sitting around 84 mph. This doesn’t worry Kelly, though. He says it just means he needs to be more creative with his pitches. He also says accuracy with his pitches is a must now. “84 on the black will get hit, but 84 in the middle of the plate is going over the wall,” Kelly said. He said he had set a goal to be back by the opening series of the season this year, he felt like he could go, but the training staff had him stay in St. Joseph to give more time for his arm. “Watching your teammates leave without you is killer,” Kelly said. Kelly said he is excited but nervous for the Emporia game. “Yeah, I’ll be a little nervous because I haven’t done it in a while, but if you aren’t nervous before a game even if you have been healthy, you are doing something wrong," Kelly said. "If you think you’re that good that you can’t be beat, something is wrong.” Kelly talked about when he hoped to be back to the large role he had been in the 2013 season. “By the Lindenwood series, I’ll be back to where I was. Maybe, but I think I can be throwing more than one inning by then," he said. "It’s a buildup process.” Kelly talked more about his excitement leading up to the Emporia series. “I will probably be able to sleep - I am pretty good about that, but yeah, I’ll be like a kid in a candy store," Kelly said. "Even if I don’t get to pitch, I get to put on a Griffon uniform again, and that's probably the most exciting part.”