By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
For the first time in program history, Missouri Southern’s baseball team went undefeated during its nonconference schedule.
The Lions swept four games from Montana State-Billings last weekend at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and those are their only nonleague games of the season as MIAA play begins this weekend with a three-game series at Lindenwood.
The series, moved back one day, has the two teams of Lions meeting in a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and one nine-inning game on Monday.
Brett Abell and David Reese are the Lions’ probable starting pitchers today, and the starter for Monday’s game has not been determined, said coach Bryce Darnell.
Abell struck out eight batters, walked two and gave up one hit and two unearned runs in 4 2/3 innings in the season opener last weekend. Reese allowed three hits and fanned four in 4 1/3 total innings in two appearances. He did not walk a batter or give up a run.
First baseman Shaun Hoover and catcher Sam Ryan paced the offense by batting .455 and .400, respectively. Left fielder Dallas Burke hit .385, and second baseman Michael McCoy and designated hitter Will Wagner both were at .375.
Wagner hit one home run and drove in six runs, and McCoy had two doubles, a triple and four RBI. Right fielder Nick Doughty had two triples and four RBI while batting .313.
“We played pretty good,” Darnell said. “We showed some flashes. There are things we can do better, but it was a good opening series for us, no doubt.”
The conference baseball schedule consists of 46 games — three-game weekend series against the 10 teams outside of the pod and home-and-home midweek doubleheaders against teams inside your pod. The pods are identical to basketball, meaning Missouri Southern has four games each against Pittsburg State, Emporia State, Northeastern State and Central Oklahoma.
As a general rule, the weekend series will be played on Saturday and Sunday except for home games at Southwest Baptist, which are on Friday and Saturday. There also will be changes made to accommodate travel; for example, Missouri Southern’s home debut next weekend against Nebraska-Kearney will be on Friday and Saturday after the Lopers play Wednesday at Northwest Missouri State.
Mid-February is an early start for conference baseball games, but the forecast is favorable.
“Looking around the league, it looks like everyone will get them in,” Darnell said. “We probably dodged a bullet, but that’s part of college baseball, playing in the cold and dealing with the elements.”
The weekend series are one less game than in past seasons, but with more midweek games, it remains to be seen how that affects starting pitching.
“I don’t know if you need more pitching or less pitching,” Darnell said. “It depends on how guys recover. I don’t know if you can pitch a guy on Saturday and bring him back on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see how teams handle that.”
Eight teams qualify for the postseason tournament. They will meet in a first-round, best-of-three series on campus sites of the top four seeds. Those series winners advance to double-elimination play at GreatAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan.