The Pittsburg State Gorillas head into their next stage of the season, entering the double-elimination tournament format of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Final Four in Kansas City, Kan.
The Gorillas play Missouri Southern at 2:30 p.m. today (weather permitting) at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of the Kansas City T-Bones with a seating capacity above 6,000.
"Fortunately, we were able to advance to the Final Four this coming weekend," Pitt State head coach Matt Murray said. "Missouri Southern is our first opponent and that's a club we have seen on four different occasions this year. I would imagine the players are looking forward to it."
"We can't be satisfied but yeah, momentum definitely carries over," senior pitcher Cody Wren said. "You've got to feed off that and keep on going."
The game will be carried on KKOW 860 AM.
Pitt State and Southern split their four regular season meetings at Joe Becker Stadium and Al Ortolani Field.
"We know we can beat them, as long as our pitching shows up," Wren said. "If it shows up, I think it should be a really good game."
"I'd say it's a team we're definitely capable of beating and it's a team that if we play our best ball, things should settle the way we want them to and we should be able to get the win," junior third baseman Brad Foss said.
Southern won the first game in Joplin 4-1, as Southern pitcher Drew Noble out-pitched Pitt State senior ace Matt Stalcup.
Pitt State salvaged the split with a 5-2 win, behind the pitching of starter Jake Stevenson (six innings) and reliever James Fitzgearlds (three), as well as the four RBI of shortstop Evan Thomas.
In late April, Pitt State won the first game in Pittsburg 5-0. Sophomore starter George Brandecker parlayed his second consecutive shutout into MIAA Pitcher of the Week honors. Brandecker tossed a one-hitter and senior center fielder Ryan Ventura provided all the necessary offense with a leadoff home run.
Southern earned the split with a 6-4 victory in the nightcap, scoring all six of its runs in the first two innings. Noble improved to 2-0 against Pitt State this season.
Missouri Western and Central Oklahoma open the day at 11 a.m. The Western-Central and Pitt State-Southern losers play in the last game of the day, eliminating one team before Friday's action.
Pitt State comes into the weekend 28-22, top seed Missouri Western 37-8, No. 3 Missouri Southern 31-19 and No. 4 Central Oklahoma 29-17. The Gorillas own a 5-4 overall record against Central (2-0), Southern (2-2) and Western (1-2).
Foss leads the Gorillas with a .383 batting average and 70 hits; he adds 38 runs scored, 17 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 34 RBI, a .546 slugging percentage and a .431 on-base percentage. Earlier this week, Foss earned All-District honors for his 4.0 GPA.
Page 2 of 3 - Three players have at least 40 RBI — Tory Stoffregen 46, Thomas 40, Ryan Bilovesky 40 — and during last weekend's series victory over nationally-ranked Central Missouri, the Gorillas received contributions throughout its lineup. For example, No. 9 hitter Lastimado hit the game-winning two-run single in the deciding game of the Central series.
Bearing out that offensive balance numerically, eight players have 20 RBI and 10 are in double figures — in addition to the numbers of Stoffregen, Thomas, Bilovesky and Foss, there's Ventura 28, Jacoby Martin 23, Lastimado 22, Cody Ball 20, Luke Bordewick 19 and Ian Robinson 12.
Stalcup leads the Gorillas on the mound with a 7-3 record and 3.46 ERA, plus 89 strikeouts in 65.0 innings pitched. No. 9 leads the MIAA in strikeouts per nine, a statistical category he once led NCAA-II in but now ranks second.
Brandecker owns a 5-4 record and 3.72 ERA, his numbers — especially the latter — goosed up by a horrible outing against Central Missouri last Saturday. Before that outing, Brandecker had pitched 14 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings highlighted by shutouts against Emporia State and Missouri Southern.
Redshirt freshman Ryan McKay has taken over as the dominant bullpen presence — 4-1 record, 1.57 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 34.1 innings.
Will Wagner leads Southern with seven homers and 37 RBI, Dallas Burke owns a .345 average and 1.000 fielding percentage and Sam Ryan (32), Tee Helsel (30) and Michael McCoy (30) join Wagner in the 30-RBI club.
Pitching wise, Southern features five who have received the vast majority of starts: Payton Walker (6-4, 2.89 ERA), Brett Abell (4-3, 3.90, 1 save), Ryan Bates (7-2, 4.07), David Reese (4-6, 4.97, 4) and Drew Noble (6-3, 5.34, 2). Bo Bergen leads the bullpen with a 3-0 mark, 3.79 ERA, three saves and 26 Ks in 19.0 innings.
A Winning Pedigree
Before he was hired as Pitt State head coach, much was made of the fact that Matt Murray never coached on a losing team, during his time in high school or at the collegiate level be it at Kansas State, Claremore (Okla.), or Central Missouri.
In his first season at Pitt State, Murray has guided Pitt State to its best record in several years and its first postseason appearance since 2004. The Gorillas will not finish with a losing record, continuing a tradition for Murray teams.
"We were looking for a winner," Pitt State athletics director Jim Johnson said back in June after Murray was hired. "We wanted someone that could join the rest of this coaching staff in taking this baseball program and putting it on a national stage. You heard Dan (Wilkes) talk about Matt's record as an assistant and as a head coach and how he's never been part of a losing season. That's pretty impressive. I think we'll agree that when you coach for a multiple number of years and you're always part of a winning team, that makes a big difference."
Take a look at the win numbers of Pitt State baseball in recent years: 34 in 2004, 29 in 2005, 27 in 2006, 24 in 2007, 22 in 2008, 15 in 2009, 15 in 2010, 20 in 2011 and 20 in 2012. With those numbers, Pitt State was picked ninth in the preseason poll.
Page 3 of 3 - The Gorillas finished eighth in the final regular season standings (Lindenwood did not qualify for postseason play, thus Pitt State received the No. 7 seed) but there was a late-season slide in the standings after being swept by Lindenwood one bad weekend in St. Charles, Mo.
Pitt State had been near the upper echelon of the MIAA (third-fifth place) for the majority of the season.
The postseason is a brand new season and Pitt State proved that with its 2-1 series victory over Central Missouri. Now, anything can happen.