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Gorillas face UCO to open postseason


Pittsburg State's baseball team has won at least 30 games for the fifth consecutive season -- excluding the COVID-abbreviated year in 2020.

But starting this weekend, the Gorillas have work to do if they want to extend their season into the NCAA Tournament.

The Gorillas are eighth in this week's Central Region ranking, and eight teams advance to the regional in two weeks. So, PSU needs a good showing in the MIAA Postseason Tournament to add to its resume.

"We get an opportunity to play at home, but we have to play better baseball," Gorillas coach Bob Fornelli said. "We haven't played very good baseball for three weeks in a row.

"We had an opportunity to be in the postseason maybe not playing great in the conference tournament. Now we've put ourselves behind it, and we're going to have to play really good to be able to continue to play after this week."

The postseason begins this weekend when the fourth-seeded Gorillas play host to Central Oklahoma at Al Ortolani Field in a best-of-3 series to start the postseason tournament. Game times are 6 p.m. Friday, 2 on Saturday and noon on Sunday, if necessary.

"It's time to go," Fornelli said. "This is what you play for. When you have an opportunity to win a series, you get to continue to play.

"We have a lot to play for. The nervous thing is we haven't been very good at home (15-11). We've been better on the road (12-4) ... and it's something we have to improve on in order to play next week."

PSU and Washburn tied for third place in the standings, but the Ichabods earned the No. 3 seed by winning two of three games last weekend at Pittsburg State. It was the third straight series the Gorillas have gone 1-2, and they are 4-6 in their last 10 games.

"We're fine," said Zac Shoemaker, the Gorillas' starting pitcher in Game 1. "Some things haven't gone our way, some things have. It is what it is, but we've come together a lot in these last three weeks. I think that's what really will propel us forward in the postseason."

"It's just about our best players being our best players," Fornelli said. "If they go out and play hard, do the right things and do what they're capable of doing, we'll be playing next week. If not, we might not, and that's not pressure on them. That's just how baseball and life is a lot of times. I say all the time, play hard, have fun and compete, if we do those things, good things are going to happen for us."

The Gorillas (31-17, 21-12 MIAA) took two of three games from the Bronchos (31-17, 18-15) in a high-scoring series March 31-April 2 in Edmond. PSU won the first game 16-12 and the finale 9-5, and UCO took the middle game 10-6.

The Gorillas are batting .311 as a team and scoring 8.8 runs per game, which is second in the league. The pitching staff has a 6.16 ERA (sixth in MIAA), and the defense sports a conference-best .974 fielding percentage.

UCO also has a .311 team batting average while averaging 8.1 runs. The Bronchos' pitching staff has a 4.61 ERA, second-best in the league.

The Bronchos also like to use their speed, evident by their 108 stolen bases in 138 attempts. That's second in the league behind Central Missouri (133-of-160). The Gorillas are fourth (79-of-96).

"Find a way to first base and run," Fornelli said. "They put a lot of pressure on you defensively. They are a good baseball team, well-coached, do all the little things."

Fornelli is quite familiar with UCO coach John Martin.

"The guy played for me, coached for me (at Emporia State)," Fornelli said. "His uncle is my best friend. This is not the matchup we wanted as coaches. It seems like the last three years, one of us has sent the other home. Hopefully we can hold that honor for this year."