The Lions face Southwestern Oklahoma State on Tuesday.
JOPLIN, Mo. – The Missouri Southern baseball team is less than a week away from their season opener – facing Southwestern Oklahoma State on Tuesday.
“We’re really excited. It’s right around the corner. We’re amped up and ready to go,” says head coach Bryce Darnell, “We’ve had a good off-season, but you never really know until you get out there. Our guys have practiced hard and they’ve prepared well, so we’re ready to go.”
The Lions finished last season with a 30-13 overall record, going 22-11 in MIAA play. That 22-11 record earned the team 3rd place in the conference.
Missouri Southern does lose some important players from last year including Ryan Hunter, Joe Kinder, Troy Gagan, Corey Coway, Will Bausinger and Zach Parish.
Parish was the Division II National Pitcher of the Year last season.
However the Lions return a strong core of talented players, including All-MIAA selections Tommy Stevenson, Jordan Fitzpatrick and Henry Kusiak. All three players finished last season top-15 in the MIAA in RBI.
“Those guys along with Logan VanWey are great players for us and they’ll step into that leadership role, if they didn’t already do some of that last year,” Darnell says, “We got some good young freshmen with (Nate) Mieszkowski and (Treghan) Parker just to mention a couple. Those guys are going to play roles for us and we’re excited to get those guys out there and see what they can do.”
“We have a lot of leaders this year, a lot of returning guys,” Fitzpatrick says, “We have a lot of young guys looking to contribute, too. I think it’s going to be a big deal for us this year to show them the ropes and get them into the swing of things.”
Mieszkowski is a freshman infielder from Grayslake, Illinois. Parker is a utility player from Webb City who was a 1st team All-State selection last spring for the Cardinals.
Parker is one of sixteen players on the MSSU roster to play high school baseball in the Joplin/Springfield area.
“We try to get the best high school players we can get,” Darnell says, “Some of our local guys are really good players. We want those schools like Webb City, Joplin, Carthage, Carl Junction and other local schools to have good players so we have a chance to get them. We’ve also done pretty well with high school players in Illinois with Kusiak and Mieszkowski, so we’ve stressed that area as well. We’ve had good success in that area and we’re excited about those guys.”
While the team is still six days away from their first game together – Fitzpatrick says team chemistry is already a strength.
“It’s super unique. I’ve never been on a team this close,” Fitzpatrick says, “Everybody gets along so well, and I think that’s a special thing. It’s a good quality to have for a good team. I can’t stress how awesome it’s been here since I came to this school. Nobody struggles to get along. It’s such a brotherhood here.”
“That’s something we don’t take lightly,” Darnell says of the team chemistry aspect, “That’s something that’s really important over the course of a baseball season, with all the frustration that comes along with playing the sport of baseball. We definitely stress that and we definitely think that’s important. Our guys know that’s important and we hope to carry on what we’ve been able to do the last few years, as far as our chemistry goes.”
“It’s all about the program. Our coaches have put together a great program ahead of us,” Fitzpatrick adds, “They’ve shown guys what we should be doing, and they’ve passed that down. Now it’s just every season, no matter who comes in, within a couple weeks everybody is already close.”
Southern will play 15 non-conference games to begin the season, before opening MIAA play against Pittsburg State on February 25th.
“They’re important,” Darnell says of the team’s first 16 non-MIAA games, “Like I said, you don’t know what you’ve got until you get in the fire. We’re going to get right in the fire with a good Southwestern Oklahoma team. We’ve played them two of the last three years. We’ve beat them once and they’ve beat us once. It’s a good program and a tough way to begin our season.”
“Every game counts,” Fitzpatrick finishes, “Our coaches put together a tough schedule for us this year. We had a really good fall, and I think we’re all just ready to get out there and show what we can do.”
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