May 6, 2010
From 5-24 to Today's Tournament Opener
Bryan Boettcher, Northwest Director of Media Relations and Sports Information
Northwest Missouri State senior first baseman Jon Henne Jr. said it was only fitting the way his team reached the MIAA tournament.
Up 2-1 at home Sunday and one strike away from clinching the league's final tourney bid, Northwest pitcher Jayson Huett got Washburn right fielder Thomas Holiday to chase a pitch low in the zone. Unfortunately, the ball hit the plate, bounced past the catcher and allowed a fortuitous Washburn runner to score the tying run.
"They did tie that game, but we knew we were going to win," said Henne. "We could look into our teammates' eyes and see the confidence."
Henne led off the bottom of the eighth inning with his team-leading 16th double of the season. Shortly thereafter he stood 90 feet from home with the bases loaded and one out.
"Kreed (Kurtz) had a great at bat," said Henne. "He was down a strike, then hit the ball so hard I didn't know which way to go.
"The outfield was in and I started going home. Then I thought he was going to catch it so I started back. He ended up diving and it went by him so I got to go in standing up. It was a good feeling."
The win was Northwest's third straight in a series the Bearcats had to win three out of four. Their reward is the program's first tournament appearance since 2007. Northwest faces top-seeded and third-ranked Central Missouri at 11 a.m. today at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan.
Oh how far this team has come.
Northwest won two of its first 17 games and two of its first 12 games in MIAA play. The team was 5-24 after losing two games to Emporia State on April 3.
"It was certainly a rough start for us," said Henne. "We really stressed circling the wagon and staying together as a team. We were finally able to get some confidence that's what really helped us and we started playing well."
Northwest won 10-of-11 from April 6-18. The Bearcats won four of their final five MIAA series to close the season, sweeping four games with Truman and taking 3-of-4 from Southwest Baptist, Pittsburg State and Washburn.
So what changed?
Northwest head coach Darin Loe, who has now won 20 or more games in all 11 seasons in Maryville, made an adjustment.
"The first part of the season was largely my fault for not understanding the team that we had," said Loe. "I thought we had more of a home runs and doubles kind of a team, so we didn't bunt and didn't run as much as we should have. When I finally came to my senses and started drag bunting, running and doing some of the small things, this team really excelled."
Taking bases has certainly become a large part of the Bearcats' game. Northwest ranks second in the MIAA and 38th in the nation with 84 stolen bases. Senior Matt Stice leads the team and ranks third in the league with 24 swipes this season. Three Northwest players have 10 steals or more.
Henne heads into today's first-round game leading the team with a .299 batting average. Like his team, Henne started slow, going hitless in his first 16 at bats. He'd later go on a team-best 14-game hitting streak and batted a team-high .344 in conference play. In three wins against Washburn, he had five hits including two doubles and drove in three runs.
"People look up to you when you're a senior and it's tough when you start that slow," said Henne. "But finally I broke out and started gaining confidence at the plate. The team did the same thing. We turned it around and we feel we can beat anybody."
"John's been here for five years and he's been a great player for us on and off the field," said Loe. "He's a joy to be around and comes from a great family. It's always fun as a coach to have a player come out and have a good senior year and, of course, the game we need to win to get into the tournament, he leads us off with a double and we're able to score him with the winning run."
When asked what he'll remember most, John was quick to mention his teammates.
"I've played with a lot of guys over the five years and I've made a ton of friends. Playing here, I'm really happy with the decision I made and all the people I've met."
For more information, please contact:
Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
firstname.lastname@example.org | 660.562.1118 | Fax: 660.562.1582
Lamkin Activity Center | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468