By Will Basler
Over the weekend, McKendree hosted Missouri-St. Louis for a four game series – two games on Saturday, and two on Sunday. Saturday’s games ended up getting postponed due to field conditions, so the series became a Sunday-Monday series.
In the series opener, sophomore starting pitcher Jacob Renfrow gave up four runs in seven innings, and while the Cats cut the deficit to only one run, the Tritons from across the river scored to more to finish out the game and win 6-3.
In the second game of the series, Bearcat ace Sam Lidisky pitched six scoreless innings, and the lineup had the Bearcats up 2-0 going into the last inning. Leaving Lidisky on the mound for the last inning was a risk, and it certainly came back to bite the Bearcats. The tired southpaw gave up five runs (all earned, all in the seventh), and the Cats lost the second game 5-2. Scoring runs had been an issue thus far and when a team fails to provide a cushion for a pitcher, it can hurt them, as it did here.
On Monday, the Cats got swept again, although they probably shouldn’t have. Runs continued to be scarce in the first game, and they lost 5-1. In the second game, the bats came to life, scoring eleven runs, with two RBI days coming from senior 3B Jake Kline, junior SS Adam Kunkle and big sophomore 1B Zach Klockowski. However, in this instance, it was their pitching that failed them. The staff gave up thirteen runs, including three runs in the last inning. Senior closer Matt Sax only got to face one batter, a walk on eight pitches, which loaded the bases, and they were eventually cleared en route to another bearcat loss and the completion of a home sweep.
This weekend series was a microcosm of the young season for this team. They went down to Florida to play a nationally-ranked St. Leo team and got swept. They took only one of three from a Missouri S&T team that was picked to finish in the middle of the west division in GLVC’s preseason poll. They lost to NAIA team Harris Stowe in the midweek and finished it up with the sweep against UMSL. The struggling Bearcats sit at 1-8.
“I think we need to be more consistent. We’ve been a streaky team at the plate,” Senior closer Matt Sax explained. “Our pitching could be better too. An ERA around 4.00 is a good goal to achieve, and we aren’t there yet. (They are currently at 5.33) Then again, our fielding could improve as we’ve only turned one double play.” Sax really put it best, as consistency has kicked this team in the butt this season.
With two of the better players in the GLVC graduating last year, the returners needed to step up. The Bearcats have three four-year starters – 1B Jeff Tolliver, 3B Jake Kline, and CF Kyle Rutledge. This team is definitely a seasoned bunch, so they definitely have the right leadership in place to turn it around. Other seniors, including 2B Pierce Borah, the closer, Sax, Utilityman Jason Hobson and injured P Vince Kiefer all look to contribute to the Bearcat turnaround. Experience is certainly not something that this team lacks, which will definitely be key for them going forward.
Although their schedule offers them no breaks in the tough GLVC, this team is good enough to turn it around. All that is needed is for both sides of their game to come together at the same time. Like I stated earlier, when they are scoring runs, pitching doesn’t bring their A game. When the pitcher is performing, the offense leaves their bats at home. The Cats have a young pitching staff so look for them to improve as the season goes on. “We are really, really close to being a good team. We just need to play nine good innings,” senior Borah said. If the team can put it together, they are good enough to beat anyone on any given day.
I fully expect this experienced ball club to put their games together and hopefully improve enough to where they can make a run in the conference tournament. They have the talent to do so, as it will just be a matter of actually playing their game, like they have many times before.