Baseball team makes postseason

Story by Chad Mullens, Writer

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The Baker University baseball team finished the 2014 regular season with a winning record in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.

“It feels awesome,” senior Josh Zach said. “It’s something we’ve never done while I’ve been around, so to get it done my senior year is pretty cool.”

In 2013, the Wildcats won just three games in conference playing, setting up a dramatic turn-around for this year.

“Last year was pretty rough, but this year, having a chance to go to the conference tournament is pretty great.” Junior Kyle Pattrick said.

The Wildcats started HAAC play with a 6-0 record, before losing nine of their next 12 games. But Baker finished strong, winning five of their last eight, though. Baker’s 14-12 record places the Wildcats fifth in the conference standings. The last time the team had won at least half of its conference games was in 2006, when the Wildcats went 15-15. The team’s 21-27 record is a 15-win improvement over 2013.

“I feel like both our pitching staff and our hitters are a lot stronger than last year,” Zach said.

Baker finished the regular season with a four-game split against Avila University. On April 26, the Wildcats took the first game from the Eagles 3-1, then fell 3-2 in game two.

After falling 1-0 in the third game, the Wildcats stormed back with a dominant 7-1 victory to close the series.

“It felt good to finish off the season with a good win,” Zach said. “Especially with a game that would have put us at .500 in the conference, it was important to finish above .500.”

Zach batted 2-3 with a walk during the contest and also scored a run in his final regular season game. Zach led the team in nearly every offensive category. He deferred the credit mostly to his teammates.

“I would say the team helped me get great at-bats, because they couldn’t just walk me and go on to the next guy, because we all had a great chance of getting the hit this year,” he said. “I also played more within myself, not trying to hit a home run every time, seeing that sometimes a bunt was the best option.”

Another Wildcat who seized an opportunity this year was Pattrick, the team’s closer. With BU winning just six games all of last year, Pattrick did not have many save opportunities, but this year, he led the conference and ranked 11th in the NAIA in saves with nine.

“Last year when I would come in, there was really no chance for us to win,” he said. “Going in with anywhere from a one-to-three run advantage really helped me this year as far as pitching with confidence, and it has been really exciting.”

The team will open the conference tournament against fourth-seeded Culver-Stockton College. Earlier this season, the Wildcats took both games in the only series between the two teams.

“We had a few good games against them this year, but they’re a good team,” Zach said. “They have a guy (Cyrus Wimberly), that can get it in the high 80s, and sometimes hit 90. He got 14 strikeouts against us last time.”

Pattrick sees potential danger in the Culver-Stockton bats as well.

“They have some guys who can swing the bat, but we have the best pitching staff in the conference,” he said. “I think Thomas (Hawkins) almost threw a no-hitter against them last time out.”

No one on the 2014 team has played in a conference tournament. As one of the senior leaders, Zach emphasizes the importance of staying loose and playing like it is just another game.

“I told them that it’s important to go out and win, but it’s also important to go out and have fun,” he said. “If you let the pressure get to you, we won’t have fun, so I just told them to have fun.”