By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The weather has done everything it can to prevent baseball games between Pittsburg State and Central Missouri.
Their best-of-three series scheduled on Feb. 23-24 was snowed out in Warrensburg. They attempted to move the games to Pittsburg, but they were postponed again by ice and snow.
The Gorillas and Mules are paired in a best-of-three series to open the MIAA Postseason Tournament, but more miserable weather and field conditions in Warrensburg have forced the teams to travel west to find a playable field.
The seventh-seeded Gorillas (26-21) battle second-seeded Central Missouri (34-9) in a doubleheader at 3 p.m. today at Larks Park in Hays. A third game, if necessary, is set for 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Gorillas are making their first postseason appearance since 2004, and their 26 victories are the most since the 2006 team went 27-25.
“I wouldn’t say we exceeded our expectations because the expectations of our coaching staff is very high,” Gorillas’ coach Matt Murray said. “But we obviously did make some improvements, and we feel like our program is moving in a positive direction.”
The Mules, meanwhile, have won at least 30 games for the 20th consecutive season and are No. 1 in the latest Central Region poll. They have won at least 40 games the last 14 seasons, and they notched program victory No. 1,700 earlier this season.
Pittsburg State’s pitching staff has recorded a league-high 335 strikeouts. The Gorillas’ 4.65 team earned runs average is fifth in the league.
Senior left-hander Matt Stalcup (6-3, 3.41 ERA) ranks second in NCAA Division II strikeouts at 13.3 per nine innings. Junior right-hander George Brandecker (5-3, 2.25) is second in the league in ERA. Brandecker leads the MIAA in lowest opponent batting average (.210), and Stalcup in second (.223).
“Matt Stalcup, George Brandecker, Cody Wren from Baxter Springs (4-5, 5.13) has had a nice spring as well,” Murray said. “Ryan McKay (3-1, 1.52, 4 saves) has had a wonderful spring on the back end of our bullpen.”
The Gorillas’ top offensive players have been junior third baseman Brad Foos (.378 average), senior outfielder Ryan Ventura (48 runs scored, 18 stolen bases) and junior outfielder Tory Stoffregen (43 RBI).
“Brad’s approach has been consistent all spring,” Murray said. “He’s a guy who understands his swing and is able to adjust quickly if needed. He’s been very professional in his approach and has been that way all year.”
Central Missouri, seeking its fourth straight MIAA Tournament title, is hitting .334 as a team, led by Kevin Gratza (.409), Kyle Grieshaber (.358, 9 home runs, 51 RBI) and Brad Wilson (.351, 51 RBI).
The pitching staff has a 3.78 ERA and is led by Travis Higgs (5-1, 3.25 ERA), Jake Heissler (5-0, 2.57 ERA in 18 relief appearances) and Andrew Urban (4-2, 2.53 ERA, 5 saves).
Murray certainly is familiar with the Mules. He was an assistant under UCM coach Tom Myers for five years before taking the PSU job last year. And Myers, who has a 274-71 record in six seasons with the Mules, is a former player and assistant coach for the Gorillas.
“Tommy is wonderful person, a great friend of mine, and I know Pitt State is close to him and his wife, who played basketball here,” Murray said. “For me knowing a lot of their players, it is bittersweet to an extent. But we are excited to have this opportunity.”