April 14, 2011
By David Boyce
MARYVILLE, Mo. - The situation oozed with pressure, but it was a moment that Northwest Missouri State senior relief ace Jayson Huett has been groomed to handle.
When he entered in the fifth inning of the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday against Southwest Baptist with the score tied, Huett wasn't thinking about the precarious position the Bearcats were in.
Northwest had already split a doubleheader with Baptist on Friday. The Bearcats could ill-afford to give up another home game against a team below them in the MIAA standings.
The Bearcats entered the weekend series in 10th place and were looking to make a second-half, upward climb to sixth.
Huett had to hold Baptist while the Bearcats generated enough runs to pull out a win.
"When I'm in the game I don't think about it," Huett said of pitching in tight games. "Before the game, because of the position I'm in, it crosses your mind."
Huett was near perfect in his three innings of work. He gave up just two hits, one run as Northwest pulled out an important 3-2 victory.
His work was only half done.
Northwest coach Darin Loe called on Huett again in the second game. This time Huett took the mound with two outs in the eighth and with Northwest holding a 2-1 lead. Huett didn't allow a hit in 1 1/3 innings of work and picked up his fifth save of the season.
"He's our guy coming out of the bullpen," Loe said. "We have complete confidence in him. He came in and shut down a very good SBU team in a couple of different situations.
"He's a unique closing guy just because he can come in and get the three outs needed in one inning or he has the capability to shut somebody down for five innings. He's a huge asset for the pitching staff."
If Northwest finishes in the top six in the MIAA and makes the conference tournament, the victories on Saturday against Baptist might end up being the catalysts for the second-half surge, and Huett played a big role in it.
Those kinds of wins give a team confidence.
"I think it does," Huett said Monday evening. "In order to win a close game you need pitching, you need hitting and you need a whole team effort to keep the game close. If there is a blowout, it could get boring.
"Winning a close game always gives you more confidence going into the next one."
The next day the Bearcats proved those words to be true and again Huett played a role in Northwest's doubleheader sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.
UNO came to Maryville Tuesday afternoon in third place in the MIAA with an impressive 16 conference wins.
Northwest won the first game 6-3. Huett pitched 2 2/3 innings and picked up his third victory of season. The Bearcats won the second game 9-1 and didn't need Huett.
Huett could probably use a little rest because he just might see action in all four games in the weekend series at home against Pittsburg State.
"Having six games this week and six games next week makes this a huge stretch of games for us," Loe said. "We feel like we have good starting pitching, but at the same time Huett is our go-to guy in the relief situations. I wouldn't be surprised if he throws a little bit in every game if the situation dictates it."
Northwest has won six of its last seven games and has moved to eighth place. The Bearcats are 11-15 in the MIAA and 12-20 overall. Their recent hot streak has vaulted them ahead of Lincoln, Pittsburg State and Truman.
The Bearcats are locked in a battle with Fort Hays State, Washburn and Missouri Southern. These four teams are battling for the final two spots.
It makes every game Northwest plays the rest of April very important. Huett couldn't imagine a better way to conclude his final season of college baseball.
He arrived at Northwest Missouri State last season after playing two seasons at Cypress Community College in Cypress, Calif.
A native of Anaheim, Calif., Huett always dreamed of playing college baseball at a four-year school. He also didn't mind leaving sunny California.
"I wanted to experience college life," he said. "I wanted to get away from California. I went to junior college and was at home for two years. I got my Associate Degree. I got my opportunity at Northwest to get a scholarship and play out here.
"Wherever I got a chance to play that's where I was going to go. I decided to come out here and complete my dream."
The transition from junior college baseball to NCAA Division II didn't bother Huett. In his first season, he earned MIAA honorable mention honors. He had 64 strikeouts in 82 innings and his 4.41 ERA was tops on the team and ninth in the MIAA.
"He's been doing a great job," Loe said. "He did the same last year. He was basically our bullpen down the stretch last year.
"I think he struggled a little early on this year. He was the hard-luck pitcher. He'd throw well but give up a base hit and got beat early in the season. His stats don't necessarily show what kind of pitcher he is."
Huett is clearly showing his value now.
In some ways, this season is mirroring last year's. The Bearcats started off slow in conference play and got hot late in the season, winning 15 of their last 23 games and clinching a spot in the MIAA Tournament on the final day of the regular season.
Over the last seven games Northwest has shown they can beat some of the best teams in the MIAA. Three of their six wins have come against UNO and Missouri Western, who are third and fourth in the MIAA.
"I think we definitely have a stronger team than we had last year," Huett said. "We have more depth, pitching and offense. The offense hasn't been there at times, but neither was the pitching. I think we can do a lot better than we did last year. Right now we just have to focus on winning each game and trying to get to sixth place and making the tournament.
"These are six games that are really big in our season and can build confidence going into our last couple of series and ending with Emporia, which will be a real big series, trying to make that conference tournament."
Whatever happens, Huett is enjoying the conclusion of his college career and the way he has developed into a top-notched reliever.
Huett didn't even pitch until his senior year in high school.
"That's when I started relief pitching. I played the infield growing up. I then went to my junior college and became a pitcher," Huett said.
"It didn't bother me. I was always pretty good on the infield, but I didn't have a good bat so they turned me into a pitcher because I had a pretty good arm."
Four years later Huett is one of Loe's go-to players to close a game out. Sure, it's pressure, but it's the kind of pressure true competitors thrive on.
"Just as important," Loe said, "he wants the ball in big situations and we are happy to give it to him."
After Huett finally throws his last competitive pitch, he wants to take what he's learned at Northwest and become a high school teacher and coach high school baseball.
The move to a colder climate to play college baseball has certainly worked out well for Huett.
"Some of the guys from California like getting out of the city and into a little more rural environment," Loe said. "I would think if you ask those guys, they would say they had a great experience at Northwest Missouri State and they really enjoyed their time here."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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