Morning Sun
  • PSU baseball, softball kick into full gear

  • Friday afternoon out at Al Ortolani Field and the PSU Softball Complex provided a hopeful preview of the rest of March through June.

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  • Friday afternoon out at Al Ortolani Field and the PSU Softball Complex provided a hopeful preview of the rest of March through June.
    We’re talking warmer temperatures but not the sizzling humidified weather of July and August or the chilly climes of early season games and nothing but blue skies with college baseball and softball doubleheaders going on almost simultaneously within walking distance.
    The Pittsburg State baseball team, under first-year head coach Matt Murray, owns a 11-6 record, its best start through 17 games since 2006. The Gorillas were in fourth place entering Monday with a 8-5 mark in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, trailing Missouri Western, Central Missouri and Central Oklahoma in the 15-team conference. Pitt State last made the conference tournament in 2004.
    Also, on Monday, Pitt State made its season debut in the Central Region Top 10 poll released by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).
    The Gorillas were tied for 10th with Harding at six points, trailing Henderson State (12), Mary (16), Central Oklahoma (29), Minnesota State (47), Arkansas Tech (52), Southern Arkansas (54), Missouri Western (55), St. Cloud State (72) and Central Missouri (80).
    The Pitt State softball team, guided by second-year head coach Elizabeth Economon, enters the newest week 12-6 overall and 2-2 MIAA. The Gorillas had their eight-game winning streak broken on Saturday by nationally-ranked Central Oklahoma.
    Pitt State defeated Southwest Baptist 5-2 in a single game Saturday afternoon, giving the Gorillas two out of three in the weekend set.
    Head coach Matt Murray was enthused by this performance, especially following up a disappointing split Friday night.
    “(Friday), I felt like we just played OK,” Murray said. “Today, for Pitt State, for our club this year, that was the most complete game we have played all season bar none — the wind was blowing in on us, SBU has a solid club, we limited any defensive mistakes and in return, our offense was able to execute and extend the lead. Overall, it was the most complete win for us this year.”
    Just like the first game of the series, reliever Ryan McKay earned the win and closer James Fitzgearlds the save. McKay won both games against Southwest Baptist with Fitzgearlds slamming the door shut on Baptist both times, earning his fourth and fifth saves of the young season.
    McKay and Fitzgearlds — both blessed with quirky deliveries — have been vital in the Gorillas’ success.
    McKay leads the Gorillas with a 3-1 record and owns a 0.66 ERA, allowing one earned run in 12 appearances and 13.2 innings, striking out 18.
    Fitzgearlds owns a 1-0 mark and 1.98 ERA with five saves in nine appearances, totaling 15 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.
    Derek Smith recorded a school-record 11 saves in 2004 (last MIAA postseason appearance) and 17 games into the season, Fitzgearlds already moved into a tie for third place with Brad Buckley (1994), Scott Schultz (1998), Aron Long (2001), Michael Grosdidier (2006), Daniel Shepard (2006) and Nate Templeton (2008).
    Page 2 of 3 - Chris Matlock of Central Missouri (2009) and Michael Cotter of Emporia State (2011) share the MIAA single-season record of 14 saves.
    Matt Stalcup and Eric Hansen, both seniors, lead a five-deep starting rotation, which also includes George Brandecker, Jake Stevenson and Cody Wren.
    Stalcup and Hansen both have 2-1 records. Stalcup, the MIAA strikeouts per nine innings leader last season, fans 14.31 batters per nine innings (27 strikeouts in 17.1 innings) and this improves on last season’s mark of 10.75. Stalcup and Hansen have ERAs of 3.12 and 3.14, respectively.
    Overall, Pitt State pitchers add up to an ERA of 4.31, while last season the Gorillas combined for a 7.64 mark with only Stalcup below 4.00.
    Offensively, Gorilla hitters combine for a team batting average of .330 with team leaders including Brad Foss with 25 hits, Evan Thomas 21 RBI and .623 slugging percentage, Tory Stoffregen 20 runs scored and eight doubles, Jacoby Martin .419 batting average and .526 on-base percentage and Ryan Bilovesky five home runs.
    Pitt State enjoys its first extended road stretch the next week — a Wednesday doubleheader against Emporia State, three games Saturday and Sunday against Fort Hays State and a Tuesday doubleheader against Central Oklahoma. The Gorillas played their past eight games at home.
    After 17 games, the Gorillas own the distinction of an opening sweep of Maryville but no sweeps either way the past 15 games. Pitt State won two out of three against Nebraska-Kearney, Washburn and Southwest Baptist and split with Northeastern State and Missouri Southern, MIAA foes.
    “For us, we’d like to sweep,” Murray said. “We felt like we let one slip away in the second game (against Southwest Baptist). We’ll just keep going and try and get better every game.”
    Pitt State was rolling heading into Saturday against Central Oklahoma — eight straight wins overall and the Gorillas swept Northeastern State during both their home and conference openers Friday.
    The Gorillas lost both games Saturday in heartbreaking one-run fashion — 3-2 and 5-4 in 10 innings, both games won by Central on two-run home runs.
    “We’re competing and that’s what we want to do because we know we can hang with anybody,” Pitt State head Elizabeth Economon said. “It’s a matter of doing better offensively as a whole. We didn’t manufacture runs. We didn’t have quality at-bats. That’s something we need to improve on.
    “We knew we were going to face a great pitcher (Kalynn Schrock). I mean, they’re a great team, for sure. They play well on all sides of the ball so good for them. We’re going to learn and get better from it, I’m very confident.”
    The Gorillas totaled only 10 hits over 17 innings against the Bronchos.
    Pitt State moves away from conference play today and Wednesday with respective doubleheaders against Northwestern Oklahoma State (Great American Conference) and Winona State (Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference), both regional opponents.
    Page 3 of 3 - The Northwestern Oklahoma twinbill starts at 2 p.m, Winona State at noon.
    The Rangers of Northwestern Oklahoma (Alva, Okla., a small town of nearly 5,000 along the Salt Fork Arkansas River) enter with a 9-7 record.
    Tiffany Santistevan (.348 average, four homers, 10 RBI), Megan Bourdon (.310, two, 12) and pitcher Kellie Mason (4-2, 4.40 ERA) rank among Northwestern Oklahoma leaders.
    The Warriors of Winona State (Winona, Minn.) owned a 13-3 record entering today with back-to-back days of doubleheaders against Missouri Southern and Pitt State. Winona State won games against MIAA opponents Washburn (14-2), Lindenwood (10-0) and Truman State (12-4) but lost to MIAA leader Fort Hays State (12-2) in Orlando, Fla.
    The lineup features some bashers, highlighted by sophomore first baseman Morgan Lintz (a movement science major from Bettendorf, Iowa, pop. 33,217) with her .455 batting average, six home runs, 25 RBI and 1.045 slugging percentage.
    Also sporting high numbers are Britt Stewart with her .451 average, three homers and 19 RBI and Ashley Walker with her .375 average, two homers and 15 RBI. The Warriors have outscored their opponents 129-65.
    Walker leads four pitchers with a 5-0 record and Stewart leads with a 2.48 ERA. Walker, Stewart and Lintz all pitch for the Warriors.
    Of course, Winona State gives a writer an excuse to mention Winona, Minn., was named after the Native American princess who leaped to her death from Maiden Rock rather than marry a suitor that she did not love — a legend that has taken on a life of its own in many shapes and forms.
    Back to Pitt State softball.
    Tiffany Brown leads the Gorilla offense with a .419 average and her 26 hits produced three doubles, six homers (team high) and 16 RBI. Katelyn Birchfield hits .410 with five doubles, five homers and 15 RBI, plus a team-high 18 runs scored. Cheslyn Mitchell leads in RBI with 17.
    Pitching wise, Haleigh Sills leads with a 1.58 ERA during her 3-1 start and freshman Kyndel Shelburn won her first five decisions until consecutive losses to Central Oklahoma on Saturday, bringing her statistics to 5-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. She only surrendered four hits — two home runs — during her first loss.
    The Gorillas close out their eight-game week with road doubleheaders Friday and Saturday — Lindenwood and Truman State, respectively.

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