March 15, 2012
Swain and Bearcats focused as Mules come to town
By David Boyce
At 2 p.m. Friday, Northwest Missouri State baseball team will experience one of its most exciting moments so far this season.
The Bearcats plays its home opener against Central Missouri at Bearcat Field. The four-game series concludes Sunday with the first pitch at noon.
“Right now we are just focusing on getting better as a team,” junior shortstop Eric Swain said Tuesday afternoon. “The excitement of taking on a top five team and having our first home series will probably hit us around Thursday.”
Despite a 5-11 overall record, Northwest has every right to be upbeat. The Bearcats are 4-4 in the MIAA and proved it can play with one of the elite programs in the conference.
Obviously, Northwest would have wanted to gain at least a split at Emporia State instead of going 1-3.
But the Bearcats left Emporia the best way possible. After losing two close games and getting blown out in the third game, Northwest won the series finale 10-6.
It was the kind of victory that builds confidence because it came against a top 20 program that regularly reaches postseason and has played in several Division II World Series.
“It was crucial for us to get that win for morale sake,” Swain said. “We should have come out of there with at least two, but it was good to take one and try to move forward with it.”
Swain played a key role in the victory. He socked his team-leading sixth home run in the victory.
Swain, a transfer from Iowa Central Community College, is off to a powerful start. His six home runs is already one more than all the home runs he hit in his two seasons at Iowa Central.
He is modest about his power outburst.
“Some of those are wind aided, but I’m seeing the ball well,” he said.
The thing that really excites Swain is the way the Bearcats are playing together.
“The chemistry is real good,” he said. “There are some people who aren’t getting to play who got a lot of playing time last year and they have been great teammates throughout the whole thing, doing everything to help us be better.”
It takes that kind of togetherness to get through the grind of four-game series against top teams because a player on the bench may get one opportunity to contribute and he must be mentally ready.
Although a lot of season remains, the next 10 days are crucial for the Bearcats. They play their next nine games at home, eight of which are against the top two teams currently in the MIAA.
Central Missouri, ranked No. 2 in Division II, is 12-1 overall and 7-1 in the MIAA. Next weekend the Bearcats will face Missouri Southern. The Lions are 15-1 overall, 8-0 in the MIAA and ranked in the top 15 in Division II.
If the Bearcats can get through this stretch still at .500 or better in conference, they will be in position to be one of the top four teams in the MIAA by the end of regular season.
“Yes, it is important, not only because it is at home, the first couple of weekends of conference we play against the top tier,” Swain said. “If we can get through it, we should have a good chance down the road.
“It is definitely nice to be at least at .500 and have a good shot to have a nice run at the end of the season and get into the conference tournament.”
Because of their victory over Emporia State, the Bearcats truly believe they can compete against anybody in the MIAA.
“The one thing I think we can take is this is one team that will battle,” Swain said. “We have a lot of heart on this team. We are going to do everything we can to win. The one thing I think we can take from Emporia is we know we can battle with top tier teams. We will try to take the momentum from the last game and swing that over.”
Northwest is looking forward to their next test.
“I think it is a good challenge,” Swain said. “They come in highly touted. It should be a good series. It should be fun.
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