MARYVILLE, Mo. — There will be plenty of intrigue in the final regular-season weekend for MIAA baseball.
The race for the final four spots in the MIAA Tournament will come down to five teams, with Central Missouri, Missouri Southern, Central Oklahoma and Emporia State having already clinched spots and Southwest Baptist, Northeastern State and Fort Hays State having been eliminated.
The race for those final four spots will be between:
- Pittsburg State 17-13
- Lindenwood 17-13
- Missouri Western 16-14
- Northwest 15-15
- Washburn 13-17
Pittsburg State is a massive favorite to lock down one of those spots with a trip to 2-28 Fort Hays State this weekend. Lindenwood matches up with Missouri Southern this weekend, but taking two-of-three in Maryville this weekend likely all but sealed its spot.
The final three teams provide the most excitement. Missouri Western enters the weekend with the edge in the standings, but also a series with first-place Central Missouri. Northwest gets fourth-place Emporia State and Washburn gets three very winnable games with Northeastern State.
“We look forward to game one on Friday,” Northwest coach Darin Loe said. “I think that is the biggest thing. We have to go down to Emporia with a clear head. We still control our own destiny as far as the playoff picture so we are going to go down there and focus on the first pitch of game one and get back to playing quality baseball — great at bats, quality defense and great pitching.”
Those final spots and seedings are likely to come down to Sunday’s games and the MIAA wouldn’t want it any other way.
Lindenwood 8, Northwest 3
The Lions took a big step toward locking down an MIAA Tournament berth with a 8-3 win in Maryville on Sunday afternoon.
Lindenwood jumped on Bearcat starter Joe Funkhouser in the top of the first with three-straight singles before an out was recorded. All three hitters eventually scored to give the Lions an early 3-0 advantage. Funkhouser bounced back well from there with three scoreless frames in the second, third and fourth.
“I thought Joe came out of the gate and pitched well,” Loe said. “They had about four base hits that found holes. They didn’t hit them very hard but they just took advantage of those and drove in those three quick runs.”
Northwest got on the board in the bottom of the second with Peter Carlson hitting a leadoff double and Jay Hrdlicka knocking him in.
“We battled back, put one on the board and had a chance to get a couple more and tighten that game up, but just didn’t push anything else across,” Loe said. “Then they kept after us.”
The Lions struck back with another three-spot in the top of the fifth. An error and a pair of walks combined with a single gave the Lions their fourth run of the game and ended Funkhouser’s outing. Alex Slocum came in and the Lions jumped on him with a two-run single before Slocum struck out the inning’s final two hitters.
A Connor Quick double scored Derek Hussey for Northwest in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 6-2.
Slocum and Aaron Easley each turned in scoreless innings for the Bearcats and Northwest got another run in the bottom of the seventh with a Quick sac-fly plating Hussey again.
“I thought Alex came in and did a great job of minimizing the damage and Ease (Aaron Easley) did a good job,” Loe said.
The Lions put the game away with a run in the eighth and another in the ninth.
Hrdlicka finished the game 2-for-4 and was the only Bearcat with multiple hits.
Sunday was the final home game and Senior Night for Northwest’s 10 seniors — Hussey, Mondesi Gutierrez, Hrdlicka, Dane Appel, Jarret Cronin, Trevor Dudar, Ross Davis, Logan Rycraft, Alison Herrera and Nathan Russell.
“It has been a special group,” Loe said. “All these guys were with us last year for a conference championship run. Going out as seniors, obviously we want to get back to the tournament and take them out on a high note. They have just been a great group of Bearcats.”