May 5, 2011
Final home stand looms large
By David Boyce
Sometimes it takes a junior college transfer at least half a season to adjust to NCAA Division II baseball. Northwest Missouri State junior second baseman Alec Rosales has made a smooth transition.
As the Bearcats prepare for their all-important final series of the season when they play four home games against Emporia State, Coach Darin Loe knows he can count on Rosales to provide a spark in the lineup.
Rosales leads the team in hitting with a robust .338 average. He's hit a team-leading five home runs and driven in 30 runs.
His offensive numbers for a second baseman make him a candidate for MIAA all-conference honors.
"He's had a tremendous year," Loe said. "He's our top hitter. He hits for average and he hits for power. He sits right in the middle of our lineup. We had him leading off. We moved him to the three hole because he's such a good RBI guy."
Rosales' performance is even more impressive when you factor in that this was his first taste of extended play in cool to cold weather.
You don't really have to worry about hitting a baseball in 30-degree weather in sunny California.
"That is the biggest difference between playing baseball in California and here," said Rosales, a native of Long Beach, Calif. "My coaches have told me not to look cold. I have to bring extra sleeves and find ways to keep warm. It hasn't affected me too much. But there are those days when it is real cold that it is a lot tougher to hit."
Well, Rosales and the rest of the Bearcats won't have to worry about the cold when they open a four-game series at 2 p.m. Friday against first-place Emporia. Temperatures are expected to be well into the 70s and possibly the 80s.
What's at stake: Emporia is after sole possession of first place in the MIAA and Northwest is trying to secure enough victories to earn the sixth and final spot for the conference tournament.
Northwest, 20-26 overall, is 19-21 and in seventh place in the MIAA. Washburn is 19-20 in conference and a ½ game ahead of the Bearcats. Also, Missouri Southern is 18-22 and one-game behind Northwest.
Washburn plays a four-game home series against 10th-place Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern plays at fourth-place Fort Hays State.
Clearly, the Bearcats have the toughest assignment to attain the sixth spot. But they are ready for the challenge.
"Our pitching has been really great this season," Rosales said. "As long as they stay focused and keep throwing strikes for us and let our defense work, we should be in a good spot.
"We have some good hitters on the team and we are going to score some runs. We are going to put our best effort out there and see what happens."
The encouraging thing about these Bearcats is they have bounced back from tough positions all season long.
A week ago the Bearcats went to Lincoln University knowing they almost had to sweep the four-game series.
Northwest dropped the first game on Friday, losing 7-5. It was a heartbreaker.
"We blew a lot of opportunities," Loe said. "We had 17 base runners and three home runs in the game and we only scored five runs. I wish we could have had some runners on base when the home runs happened. It didn't happen."
The Bearcats could have quit on the rest of the season.
"But we have a great group of guys and they responded real well and came back and got three big wins to keep us in the race," Loe said.
Rosales' was one of the key cogs for Northwest in the doubleheader sweep the next day. The slugging switch hitter went 5-for-9 with two home runs and six RBIs in a 9-7, eight-inning victory and 7-4 win.
"We really needed to sweep, but to come back and win three games after losing the first one was huge on our part and showed a lot of character to do it," Rosales said. "We didn't give up.
And don't expect it this weekend even with Emporia State bringing its sparkling 33-7 conference record, which ties the Hornets for first with Central Missouri.
The Bearcats have shown an ability to compete with some of the top teams in the MIAA. They took three out of four from third-place Nebraska-Omaha.
"We played flat against some of the lower teams in our conference," Rosales said. "I think when you play the best you play at your best. Hopefully, we bring our best baseball to the field on the weekend and we can surprise some people and show we have a better team than our record may indicate."
Whatever happens this weekend, Rosales has had an enjoyable first season at Northwest.
"I came out here with an open mind," he said. "I wanted to live on my own and seeing baseball in different parts of the country, which I have done before. But baseball is going to be baseball no matter where you go. I'm happy to be playing.
"Everything is great. I love the school, my teammates and coaches. Everything here is helping me to become the best baseball player I can be. Nothing is better than that."
And Rosales likes what he sees down the road.
"The future looks really bright," he said. "We have a lot of hitters coming back with more experience and a better outlook on the game. We have some good recruits coming in as well so hopefully we get them here and build a good solid lineup and find some good pitching to go with it."
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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