Tigers 0-3 in series
By CONOR NICHOLL
The good news is the Fort Hays State University baseball team, after a terrible start to its season, will finish in the top six and play in the MIAA conference tournament.
The bad news is the Tigers have lost three in a row to Missouri Western State University this weekend, tying the longest home losing skid of the spring. Fort Hays lost the contests by a combined score of 29-4, including 5-1 and 9-2 defeats Saturday at Larks Park.
Coach Steve Johnson said it’s most lackadaisical his team has looked since mid-March when FHSU opened 2-10.
“We have been down this road before,” Johnson said. “To play as well as we have played and to get ourselves in a position to be in the conference tournament and have a winning season and to come out like ‘job’s over, let’s move on’ is ridiculous. It’s embarrassing how little emotion we played with.”
Fort Hays dropped to 25-22 overall, 19-19 MIAA with one regular season game left, a noon start today versus MWSU.
Missouri Western has received three complete games in the series, including two Saturday from Brandon Simmons and Nik Jurado, right-handers who are a combined 19-3. The Griffons improved to 33-14, 26-11 MIAA and are the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament.
“They just threw a lot of strikes, they got ahead,” said senior designated hitter Mace Krol, who hit a two-run homer in Game 2. “Any pitcher can be good as long as they throw strikes and get ahead. That was the difference. They were good at throwing strike one.”
Fort Hays walked 14 batters and committed nine errors in the three losses. In Game 1 Saturday, junior right-hander Alex Ellison (3-5) pitched a complete game and allowed five runs, but only three were earned because of three errors.
“Not to say all the kids, but in general, in the dugout, head hanging when anything goes wrong,” Johnson said. “That’s a little scary, because that’s what we did at the beginning of the season.”
Fort Hays qualified for next week’s conference tournament when Pittsburg State University lost to MIAA champion University of Central Missouri on Saturday. The Tigers — who won 23 of 32 games before Friday’s defeat — will either be the fifth or the sixth seed.
“We just want to get in,” junior reliever Kyle Leroy, who worked a career-high six relief innings in Game 2, said. “That was the main goal, to get in, go from there.”
In Game 1, Missouri Western scored two third inning runs with two outs. Senior first baseman J.C. Ochoa misplayed a ground ball. After a single, senior shortstop Sheldon Howell made a poor throw on a ground ball.
“It’s part of the game, but it’s happening when it shouldn’t,” Johnson said.
In Game 2, junior right-hander Jesse Hart (4-2) walked four batters and allowed four runs in one-plus innings. Hart has walked 23 batters in 32 innings this year.
“He has times when he throws strikes and then he has times like today where he comes out and he can’t find the strike zone at all,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if he was ahead of a single batter all day.”
Fort Hays had multiple chances to score against Jurado (8-1), including a bases loaded, two-out situation in the fourth inning. Senior right fielder Nash Smith noticed the first baseman playing back and tried to bunt down the first base line. He was out in a close play.
“Sometimes that a sign of pressing, which I don’t like to see because that’s what I saw earlier in the season,” Johnson said.
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