MARYVILLE, Mo. — With the weather beginning to feel more like baseball season, the Bearcats are beginning to play their best ball.
“It is fun to win,” Northwest starting pitcher Joe Funkhouser said.
Northwest Missouri State (17-15; 13-8 MIAA) used a 16-1 rout of Fort Hays State on Sunday afternoon at Bearcats Field to run its winning streak to six games and complete back-to-back home sweeps of the Washburn and Fort Hays State.
“The biggest thing that we’ve gotten to now is that this team just goes out and plays,” Northwest coach Darin Loe said. “It doesn’t matter who our opponent is, it doesn’t matter what the score is. That is what we’ve been trying to get to and I think in the last six games we’ve really seen that.”
Sunday was just the seventh home game of the season for the Bearcats as the weather caused their home opener to be pushed back until the 26th game of the season.
“We were on the road for so many weeks straight, now we were able to get comfortable and settle in a little bit,” Funkhouser said.
The Bearcats looked right at home on Sunday with Funkhouser getting the start. The junior got off to a slow start to begin the year, but turned in a strong start in his home debut against Washburn and continued to build on that against the Tigers. A 1-2-3 first frame had him feeling good early.
“I’ve just been trusting coach’s process,” Funkhuser said. “I’ve struggled this year and have just been working with Coach Loe every week to get better. Coming off of surgery, I wasn’t really comfortable early, but I feel like we’ve got things going in the right direction now.”
The Bearcat offense wasted little time giving Funkhouser a lead to work with and after leadoff man Peter Carlson was hit by a pitch, third baseman Calvin Rudolph quickly drove him in with a double. Matt Gastner plated two more with his own double.
After a scoreless second inning, the Bearcat bats continued to heat up and with two outs in the third, senior Jay Hrdlicka tripled to the gap in right-center and scored two more runs. The Bearcat lineup looks very different from the MIAA championship team a year ago, but they believe they are just starting to put things together.
“This year, it is like a brand-new team pretty much,” Northwest senior Derek Hussey said. “There are a lot of new guys so we just had to find that moment when just found it. Once we did, we are just going to keep rolling.”
The Tigers began to self-destruct in the fourth inning under the Bearcats’ constant pressure. After Carlson singled and Rudolph doubled, a pair of balks made the Northwest lead 7-1.
Fort Hays State was able to get a runner on second in the fifth on a two-base throwing error from Bearcat shortstop Logan Rycraft. Funkhouser picked up his teammate, who had made several great plays in the field earlier in the game, with a strikeout to end the threat.
“When you go through through a skid, it seems like one thing always turns into another,” Funkhouser said. “But today, Logan makes two great plays, probably saves a run or two in that that game. Then you have a two-out error, but you have to keep battling through it and everything goes together.”
Rycraft responded himself in the bottom of the fifth, after the Bearcats loaded the bases with no outs, by singling home a run. The Bearcats added three more runs in the fifth including a two-run, two-out single from catcher Alixon Herrera.
“Our lineup is swinging with confidence right now,” Loe said. “They trust their own swing, but they also trust the guy behind them to do the job if they don’t.”
The Bearcats closed the door on the Tigers in the bottom of the sixth with five more runs including RBI singles from Hussey and Connor Quick, a two-run double from Herrera and an RBI double from Gastner.
Funkhouser finished the day with his best outing in a Bearcat uniform. He threw a seven-inning complete game while allowing just four hits and a walk to go with a seven strikeouts.
“His velocity was up today, he had a sharp breaking ball and I think tat is the best I’ve seen him throw,” Loe said. “He competed. … Those last three innings especially, I thought he was dominant and let his defense work behind him.”
At the plate, the Bearcats were led by Herrera and Hussey with three hits each. Hrdlicka, Gastner, Rudolph and Quick each added two hits as every member of the starting lineup had at least one hit and the Bearcats totaled 17 on the day.
“We’ve just been building and trusting the process,” Hussey said.
Northwest will look to continue its winning ways on Tuesday when they play Pittsburg State in Kansas City at the T-Bones Ballpark. The Bearcats then will travel to Missouri Western for a weekend series.
“I believe that we are just going to keep getting better and better and better,” Hussey said.
The Bearcats fell behind the Tigers 3-0 in the top of the first inning on Saturday, but Quentin Van Ackeren and the Northwest bullpen held the Tigers scoreless the rest of the way and the offense rallied for a 4-3 victory.
Van Ackeren threw six innings and allowed just five hits with one walk and five strikeouts. Alex Slocum, Aaron Easley and Trevor Dudar each turned in scoreless frames for from the bullpen.
The Bearcat rally started with a Rudolph single to score Hussey in the third. Hussey plated Mondesi Gutierrez with a double in the fourth before Rycraft used one of his team-high three hits to score Hussey.
The game-winning run scored in the fifth on a Gastner sac-fly.
The Bearcats rolled 9-2 in the series opener behind 7 1/3 shutout innings from Max Spitzmiller. The sophomore allowed just five hits and two walks while striking out four.
Carlson, Rudolph, Quick, Gastner, Hrdlicka and Rycraft each had two hits in the game as every Bearcat to come to the plate had at least one hit.
Former Spoofhound Jarret Cronin put the finishing touches on the game by recording the final five outs.