Feb. 16, 2012
Spring budding optimism and excitement for ‘Cats on the diamond
By David Boyce
Once the first pitch is thrown Friday afternoon in Edmond, Okla., last year’s record and the preseason poll becomes irrelevant for Northwest Missouri State baseball team.
At 1 p.m., the Bearcats play their season-opener against Central Oklahoma, a team that has already played six games.
“You know it is going to be a challenge,” Northwest baseball coach Darin Loe said. “Our players can go on their website and see they are 5-1 and they are hitting close to .400.
“Just because they have done that in the past doesn’t mean they are going to do it to us. Do not change your mindset just because they are 5-1. We have to go out and play our game and pitch our game and do what we do and I think the final result will tell the tale.”
Opening day is always exciting in baseball because it represent a new beginning. The hard work that has been put in during the fall and winter months can now be taken to the field against an opponent.
The work the Bearcats have put in since September have them optimistic that they will top last season’s 20-30 overall record and 19-25 in the MIAA. In their guts, they believe they will be better than the seventh place finish predicted for them in the MIAA preseason poll.
“I’m really excited to see what we got,” Northwest senior pitcher Chris Green said. “I feel like we have the possibility of being one of the better teams in our conference. I want to see how we compete against other teams and have that competitive desire to win.”
Green is one reason for the optimism. He missed part of last season with an arm injury. He returns healthy as the Bearcats’ No. 1 starter.
“It is huge,” Loe said. “Chris does not care what their numbers look like. That feeds into other players. He just goes out and competes. That is what makes him a great pitcher. He does not care who he is pitching against. He knows if he pitches his game, we have a chance to win.”
Northwest senior first baseman Geno DeAngelis agrees plus adds more reasons for the optimism.
“I’m extremely excited,” DeAngelis said. “With Green coming back, our ace and the job the coaching staff did recruiting this offseason was great. They got a bunch of guys from Iowa Central and few guys from junior colleges in California. We got a pitcher from UNO.
“We have a lot depth and a lot of confidence going into this season.”
The biggest factor in the Bearcats’ confidence of surpassing last year’s record is the team chemistry. They return all their position players.
The new players brought in to push the returners have not caused friction. Instead, everybody is pushing each other to be the best team they can be.
“We kind of want to mirror what the basketball team is doing,” Green said. “The last two years we had a bunch of holes where we didn’t know who was going to play. This year the competition is so good that we still don’t know who is going to play, but there are no holes in our lineup.”
Added DeAngelis: “It’s the team unity. It’s what we wanted to change. We are real close here even though we have competition for every position. We all hang out. I think team camaraderie is a big thing in college sports and something you need to be successful.”
Loe has seen it so far in practice.
“What we found is that we have great competition at positions and everybody had to get better to stay in the lineup,” Loe said. “It has pushed everybody. It has been a healthy thing. Everybody has bought into the philosophy that you got to come ready to practice in order to keep your spot or push the guy in front of them.
“We are close knit group. They are able to put their position competition aside for wins.”
The Bearcats want to start winning right away. A year ago, they lost their first 11 games. It should be pointed out that four losses came against West Texas A&M, which is a warm-weather team and another four came against Central Missouri, which annually competes for a national title.
Because of a fairly warm winter, Northwest was able to get outside some and practice and that should help.
“I know as an infielder, taking ground balls in the dirt and grass is a lot different than the basketball court where you have a smooth surface,” DeAngelis said.
Bottom line: the Bearcats are ready to compete. It’s what makes college athletics fun, said Green.
“You want to prove to the other team every weekend that you are better,” Green added. “I have grown up loving the game. I’m glad we have a bunch of people who think like me.”
Let’s play ball.
“We were a pretty good team last year,” DeAngelis said. “We just fell a little bit short. We need to stay consistent at both ends. We need to pitch and play defense and at the same time hit and score runs. We did not do a good job of putting that together last year. It is a whole new year.
“Coming off last season was a disappointment to all of us. We are excited to go and prove ourselves this year.”
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