By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Looking to secure a conference postseason tournament berth, Missouri Southern entertains Southwest Baptist in a four-game series this weekend at Joe Becker Stadium.
The Lions (28-18, 19-17 MIAA) and Bearcats (19-24, 14-20) collide in doubleheaders starting at 3 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday.
Entering the final weekend of league play, Central Missouri and Missouri Western have clinched the top two seeds for the postseason tournament.
Five teams are within three games for the final four spots in the six-team field. Third-place Emporia State leads Fort Hays State by one-half game, both Missouri Southern and Washburn by one game and seventh-place Pittsburg State by three games.
The Gorillas have the toughest task this weekend as they entertain Central Missouri. Emporia State and Washburn collide in the Turnpike Tussle, and Fort Hays State is at home against Missouri Western.
“We’d have to have a lot of bad things happen to not make the top six,” Lions coach Bryce Darnell said. “But anything can happen as we all know.
“Our league is pretty balanced this year. Every weekend — as evident by our record — is really tough. If you’re not playing well, you’re going to get beat.”
The Lions, who are 20-2 at home this season, rank third in the conference in pitching with a 3.58 team earned run average.
Three pitchers are in the top 10 — David Reese fourth at 2.24, Cody Griebling seventh at 2.74 and Ryan Wheat ninth at 3.04. Griebling (8-3) has thrown a league-high 82 innings and is fourth with 63 strikeouts. His eight victories are second in the league behind Missouri Western’s Brandon Simmons (10-2), and Griebling is second nationally with eight complete games, one behind Simmons.
The Lions have a .307 team batting average, led by Michael McCoy’s .376 average, good for 11th in the league. He’s also tied for third in the league with 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts, and he’s driven in a team-high 40 runs.
Other .300 hitters in the lineup are Luke Acosta (.331), Jesse Kinzey (.321), Cullen Baxter (.313), Dane Kolkmeyer (.302) and Tee Helsel (.301). Acosta is tied for third in the league with 49 runs scored.
Southwest Baptist has a .311 team batting average and 5.46 team ERA. Tyler Christophel leads the league in runs (53) and stolen bases (37 in 40 attempts), and Drew Miller ranks among the league leaders with his .393 average and 42 RBI.
“SBU has played well pretty much all year,” Darnell said. “They have a new coach, so there is a little renewed spirit. We need to be ready and understand we’ll have our hands full.
“I think we’re ready. I know at times we’ve struggled, especially on the road. I think the guys are excited about what is on the horizon. We expect to play well.”
Between games of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Lions will recognize 15 seniors — Cameron Beaver, Cullen Baxter, Luke Acosta, Harrison Gerber, Ryan Wheat, Jesse Kinzey, Cody Griebling, Ethan Stenger, M.J. Sartin, Michael Mudd, Jim Gilkerson, Ben Millard, Jeff Fabis, Grant Conrad and Kevin Burgi.