April 28, 2011
“Resilient” Bearcats head to Lincoln for four-game series
By David Boyce
Redshirt freshman Charlie Krueger is the latest example of the resiliency shown by Northwest Missouri State's baseball team.
The Bearcats, 17-25 overall and 16-20 in the MIAA, begin an important four-game series at Lincoln on Friday in a precarious position.
By dropping three of four games at Washburn last weekend, Northwest slipped 1 ½ games behind the Ichabods for the sixth and final spot for the MIAA Baseball Championships.
It could have been worse, much worse.
Northwest dropped the first three games and was staring at a 2-0 deficit in the top of the seventh inning in game four.
"We knew we needed to get at least one win out of that deal to stay in the hunt," Northwest coach Darin Loe said.
Loe opted to use Krueger as a pinch hitter in the seventh.
Krueger arrived at Northwest a year ago as a top-notch pitching prospect and he also possessed a hitting stroke that was good enough to earn him time at the plate.
"His true freshman fall season he was pretty much untouchable on the mound. He had great velocity, great breaking ball and a change-up," Loe said.
"We were going to play him last year until the arm injury."
The hope was that time off would help Krueger's left elbow. But during the fall, the pain returned.
Krueger, who will have elbow surgery after the season, has only pitched two innings.
When he stepped to the plate against Washburn on Saturday, it was only his 39th at bat. By contrast, six Bearcats have over 100 at bats.
But this Bearcat bunch has been resilient. It's why they have overcome a slow start to move from near the bottom of the MIAA to the middle of the pack.
Krueger delivered an RBI double that helped Northwest close to 2-1.
"We felt like he was going to come up again in the ninth so we left him in the game and put Charlie at first," Loe said.
With one-out in the ninth, Krueger socked a 2-run homer that gave Northwest a 3-2 lead and ultimately a much-needed win to keep within striking distance of Washburn..
"You can't really describe it," Krueger said. "It didn't really feel real when I hit it. It just felt good to help the team get a win. We just have to take it one game at a time moving towards the tournament."
As it turned out, it was another true team victory that bonds a squad. Just as important as Krueger's homer was the 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief by Jayson Huett, who picked up his sixth win. Huett allowed only one hit.
"I think Huett pulled through for us more than I did," Krueger said.
"I think the team took a lot of confidence in getting the win because another loss would have really put us in the hole. This win will carry us into the next series."
The Bearcats know what's at stake in their final two series.
After Lincoln, Northwest concludes its regular season with a four-game series at home against first-place Emporia State.
The Bearcats need to win as many as possible and hope for some help. Washburn plays host to Emporia State this weekend. Washburn also plays at Fort Hays State and at home against Pittsburg State.
Truman and Missouri Southern are also knocking on the door for the sixth spot, but almost have to win out to have a chance to move into a tournament spot.
"These games are certainly big," Loe said. "It's coming down to four or five of us who all have a shot to get into that tournament.
"We certainly wished we could have taken a few more games at Washburn. It didn't happen so we have to have a good weekend at Lincoln to give ourselves a chance in the end."
Sure, it would be nice if Northwest was at or near the top of the MIAA and knew it had already secured a spot in the conference tournament.
But the never-quit attitude has the Bearcats playing important games in the last 10 days of the regular season instead of only playing for pride.
"At practice we are all talking about it," Krueger said. "We are ready. We know what we have to do. We are concerned with what we have to do and that is winning games. I think we can get it done.
"I know we never give up. We've had the same attitude throughout the year even in the beginning when we weren't winning. We were so close, though. We knew something had to give. We kept playing our game and things started working out for us."
That's kind of how Krueger's season has gone. He knows there is so much more he can give to the team if he was healthy.
He's not at 100 percent, but that hasn't meant he has quit on this season and looking forward to next year.
Still, the injury is frustrating.
"It's one of the worst things ever because I know what I'm capable of, but I haven't been able to show it and prove myself at all," Krueger said. "I just have to sit back and wait for my time. It's tough, but I will do whatever I have to do for the team. I will play whatever role I have to.
"I have to be smart because I don't want anything serious to happen that requires major surgery. But it is hard to hold back. I'm trying to be smart, but I'm definitely going to give all for my team."
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