The Griffons are at third base, so to speak as they prepare to play the next to last game of the MIAA regular season against the number one team in the MIAA standings, the UCM Mules. “I know they are going to be a well-coached disciplined team, I am excited for the challenge of playing [the Mules] in their house. All pressure is off and it is time for us to go play some ball,” junior outfielder Ryan Degner said, “we are in a good situation, but we need to continue to get better like we can. The Mules have clinched a spot in the MIAA tournament as they sit in first place out of the fourteen collegiate teams competing this season. They currently sit at a 29-12 record overall and an impressive 26-6 in MIAA play. The fact that UCM is in first does not seem to have a negative effect on the Griffons and they plan on playing the game as they always do. “We prepare for every team just the same as the last. We just go out and play baseball like we know we can. If we play our best and still lose, that’s just baseball,” Tyler Sanders said. Junior outfielder Hunter Weiss feels that the Mules are an even match up for the Griffons “UCM is the top team in the league right now. They are similar to [the Griffons] in that they pitch extremely well and play great defense. They move their runners and have timely hitting in offense” The Griffons seem to be on a roll as they swept Pittsburg State and are now on an eight win streak and have won 15 of their last 19 games. Western sits at a 23-14 overall record and are 19-11 in MIAA play. The Griffons are ranked third in the MIAA standings and have no intentions of slowing down now that they’ve picked up momentum and Weiss has a positive outlook about the rest of the season and is confident in the abilities of his teammates. “We struggled early in the season but we are clicking on all cylinders now and we’re going to take that positive momentum into the UCM and Fort Hays series and then into the playoffs. Our mindset going into every series is to win at least three out of four games and play the best we can as a team” The “number one” attached to UCM raises the bar for the Griffons as they prepare to face their opponents at their house. But that does not seem to have an effect on the level of preparation and metal strength the team possesses. “Since UCM is in first, this weekend has a little more of a magnitude to it. But, we are still going into it with the mindset that if we play up to our capabilities the wins will take care of themselves,” Weiss said. As the season has continued forth the Griffons have learned the importance of unity and teamwork and as the season comes to an end , Degner looks to the future. “I am privileged to wear the Griffon logo and represent the school. As it gets near to the end all we can focus on is each day,” Degner said, “We have a chance to get better and finish the season with a bang” After the UCM series the Griffons will take on Fort Hays state and shortly there after the MIAA tournament will begin. Junior outfielder Trevor LaHonta looks forward to the tournament. "Being so close to the end of the season it is kind of strange, I feel like as a team we are just getting our stride to where we want to be but it is also a good thing with the conference tournament coming up. I hope we can go far for the seniors this year because we've been through so much as a team this season. Due to forecasted rain on Thurs. Apr. 17, The Griffons will head to Warrensburg, MO to play UCM on the weekend of the 18th. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.
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.
Western baseball hopes that their pressure, executing their small ball play and fewer errors on defense will help them when they face the Pittsburg State Gorillas. The Griffons will face off against the Pitt State Gorillas. They have an overall record of 13-18 and are 10-14 in conference. As of now, the Gorillas are on a five-game losing streak with their most recent loss coming from Missouri Southern. Western has an overall record of 15-14 and is 11-11 in conference play. Before losing to Nebraska Kearney, the Griffons were on a seven-game winning streak. The Griffons hope to keep the pressure up against the Gorillas to force them to make mistakes. Senior outfielder David Chew is confident they can keep the pressure on the Gorillas if they just play their game. “We just need to play our game and put pressure on the defense and force them to make mistakes,” Chew said. “Also have good defense on our side.” The Griffons feel that they have been doing well at executing their small ball play. They feel that lately the team has been doing well at bunts, hits and runs. “We have been doing pretty well at executing our small game as far as bunts and hit and runs,” Chew said. “Especially lately, we’ve been doing a good job of that the last couple of weeks and if we keep doing that we are going to keep playing well.” Junior pitcher Matt Russell also thinks that the team has been doing well this second part of the season at executing their small ball play. He feels that it will be a big factor for them against the Gorillas. “Our small ball has been well we get people on and then we get them over,” Russell said. “After we get them on and over we let our big guys get them in and that’s been helping us a lot.” The Griffons feel that if they have solid play on the defensive end, it well help when they play the Gorillas. Senior pitcher Jake Jones thinks that if they can prevent small errors, they will be good. “On defense, we just need to be more solid and make fewer errors,” Jones said. Chew also thinks that they need to prevent their errors on defense. “We need to improve the errors on defense,” Chew said. “There have not been a ton of errors, but a few of them have been costly and we need to pick up on that.” Matt Russell thinks that more fluid play will help them on defense. “We just need to be a little more fluid on our defense,” Russell said. “If we can stay steady with our defense and have some good solid games we should be good.” Western and Pitt State will meet Friday, April 11 here at the Spring Sports Complex.
Griffon baseball begins to wrap up the 2014 season with a series against the Blue Tigers of Lincoln this weekend. Lincoln is struggling this season, and has only claimed one victory, they stand at a record of 1-23. “We prepare every week, no mater who we are playing. This weekend is very important to our team. We will have to play well to get the outcome we desire,” pitcher Tyler Sanders said. But, even though Lincoln doesn’t seem to be an immediate threat, the Griffons are treating this like any other routine matchup. “Lincoln is sill a college baseball team, and, as we have noticed in this league, anyone can win,” outfielder Trevor LaHonta said. “Even though they might not be doing well, we still need to play our best, because there aren't any guaranteed wins in this conference.” The Griffons are keeping their heads above water this season, they currently sit at a 15-14 overall record and are at an even 11-11 in MIAA play. “We did not play up to our potential at the start of the season,” Sanders said. “But, over the last few weeks, we have started to come together and play good baseball.” After last season’s first ever MIAA title, it seems as if the pressure is on for the Griffons to compete just as hard as they did last season. “Yeah, in a way it does pressure us to play hard, because teams want to beat the best, but we are a completely different team than last season,” LaHonta said. “If anything, it amps up the intensity of the game, because teams want to defeat the reigning champs and we want to remain champions.” While some may agree that defending the title may add some pressure to the game, there are other players that view it as a challenge. “I would not necessarily say that there is added pressure, but we do understand that, being the defending champs, there is a mark on our back,” Sanders said. The Griffons still have to face four more teams to end the season, but, they seem confident in their ability to play as a unit to finish the season strong. “I feel confident that we will continue to get better and play to our potential, if we trust our coaching and each other,” outfielder Ryan Degner said. “Guys like David Chew, Jake Shrader, LaHonta, Cody Childs, Hunter Weiss, and Dylon Koch are continuing to play good baseball. I am excited to see what the end of the season brings." Western will head to Jefferson City, Mo. to face the Blue Tigers this weekend. The first game of the season is set for Friday, April 4. First pitch is set for 3:00 p.m.
Consistent. That's the word that head coach Buzz Verduzco used to describe outfielder David Chew. "He's a 'quiet leader' kind of guy. He's kind of a player's player, a great teammate, an uplifting, positive teammate," Verduzco said. "A competitor and expects no less from his teammates." Chew has been playing baseball since the days of T-ball, when he was about 4 or 5 years old. Since then, he hasn't stopped. The Lenexa, Kan. native spent his high school career playing baseball and football. Chew attended Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park where he was both an outfielder and a pitcher. His high school career was decorated with awards. He was named First-team Sunflower League selection and First-team All-State in 2009 and 2010. "In high school, he was a heck of a hitter," Verduzco said. "That was one big reason [I recruited him], and he's been a very good hitter for us these last four years." While he had offers to play at junior colleges and other Division II schools, Chew chose Western above all the others. "I chose Missouri Western because I believe this is a great fit for me. The facilities and the coaches. I really liked what the coaches brought on, and how they went about the game of baseball," Chew said. "I thought it was a great fit for me." In 2011, he started 36 of the 42 games he played. He raked in 31 hits, including three doubles and 16 RBIs. He stole two bases on the season. Chew placed third on the team in batting average, swinging a .304. Chew continued to improve across the boards during his sophomore season, both from the plate and out in the field. In 2012, he racked up 36 hits, including seven doubles. He scored 14 runs and brought in 16 RBIs. He stole six bases and finished with a .290 batting average. He completed the season with a 1.000 fielding percentage, thanks to his 59 putouts and zero errors. "His discipline at the plate, I think he was more of a free-swinging hitter when he got here. He still has a tendency to be that way," Verduzco said. "But, for the most part, I think that's one of the parts of his game that has really improved." In 2013, Chew was a big contributor to the MIAA-Champion Griffons. While he only played in about half of the games, he still did his part to keep Western on the path to victory. Chew had 14 hits, including a triple and five home runs. He knocked in 15 RBIs and scored 12 runs. His batting average dropped a bit from previous seasons, ending at a .250. His fielding percentage dwindled a bit too. Despite his 22 putouts, an error dropped him to a .958. And, while he doesn't know what his proudest moment outside of the sport is, Chew won't hesitate on his biggest achievement in baseball. "Proudest moment inside of baseball--the happiest I've been--was last year when we won the conference tournament," Chew said. Chew, a 5'11, 195 pound senior, has been a powerhouse for the Griffons. He has started all 29 games so far. He has 35 hits, including seven doubles, three triples and two home runs. He has scored 26 runs and brought in 28 RBIs. Chew is 5-for-7 on stolen base attempts. His current .321 average puts him at third on the roster. He has 92 putouts so far, but two errors puts him at a .980 fielding average. "This season, we want to make it to regionals. Not only make it to regionals, but win regionals. Get on to the World Series," Chew said. "We need to do better than we did last season. Win a regional game first, then see where we go from there." Chew is a business management major. He hopes to land a job when he graduates from Western next December. "After school, I'd like to get either an accounting or finance job," Chew said. "I liked to move on and get a job somewhere and start my life outside of baseball." In his free time, Chew enjoys hunting. He shot a 6-point buck on one of his most recent hunting trips. Right-handed pitcher Jake Jones has been teammates with Chew since their freshman season in 2010. Jones knows from experience the type of player Chew has become. "He's one of those guys that you know is going to have your back through anything. He's a really good teammate and a really good friend, on and off the field," Jones said. "He works really hard at both school and baseball, and is just a pretty good overall guy." Chew and the Griffons will be heading to Jefferson City, Mo. this weekend for a series against the Blue Tigers of Lincoln University. The first game of the series will be on Friday, April 4. First pitch is set for 3:00 p.m.