The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

April 24, 2014

MSSU concludes 42-year run at Joe Becker, awaits its on-campus facility

Pitching performances include three no-hitters, an 11-inning complete game and a 20-strikeout game.

At the plate, there have been individual efforts of four doubles, nine runs batted in and three sacrifice flies.

On the basepaths, a player swiped seven bases in one game.

And, who knows how many Mutt burgers were sold.

During the last 42 seasons, Missouri Southern’s baseball teams have compiled a 747-347-1 record — a .683 winning percentage — at Joe Becker Stadium under coaches Ed Wuch (1972-76), Warren Turner (1977-2007) and Bryce Darnell (2008-2014)..

The Lions won NAIA District 16 titles at home in 1985 and 1987, the NAIA Area IV crown in 1987, the MIAA Tournament title in 1991 and NCAA Division II regional championships in 1991 and 1992.

“As a player I remember the tournaments like the Mutt Miller, the Leroy Wilson,” Darnell said. “We played basically every evening for about three weeks, and it always felt like there was a good buzz in the ballpark.

“I have fond memories of that. I still think about that periodically. Most of my teammates agreed that was the most fun part of our schedule.”

On Tuesday night the Lions played their final game at Joe Becker, dropping a 6-2 decision to Drury.

Next season the Lions are scheduled to christen a $2.5 million stadium on campus..

“We had a great relationship with Joe Becker,” Darnell said. “It’s important for people to know the history of Joe Becker Stadium is intertwined with Missouri Southern baseball. If not for Warren Turner and Missouri Southern baseball, Joe Becker no longer would be a baseball stadium.

“That being said, It’s time for our baseball program to continue to grow and get its own facility.”

In the beginning

The Lions’ first team in 1972 consisted of about 35 players — all non-scholarship — who responded to a signup sheet put on the gymnasium wall by coach Ed Wuch. Almost all of them were from the immediate area who were enrolled at the college.

The program debuted on a cold, drizzly Tuesday afternoon, March 28, 1972, and the Lions swept Central Methodist 1-0 in eight innings and 5-2.

Bob Tignor drew the honor as the Lions’ first starting pitcher, and he worked seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits, walking one batter and striking out five. Roy Knight worked out of a two-out jam in the eighth inning to earn the victory.

The Lions scored their run in the bottom of the inning when Doug Page singled to right and took second on Knight’s sacrifice. After pinch-hitter Tyrone Hill was intentionally walked, Joe Ketchum singled to right to score Page.

Division I opponents

For many years the Lions’ nonconference schedule included many games with NCAA Division I schools. Naturally most of them were on the road, but the Lions have played 45 games against D-I foes at Joe Becker.

The Lions went 21-24 in those games, including a 5-1 mark against Iowa State, 5-4 against Oral Roberts and 2-1 against Notre Dame.

But the most memorable victory — without question — came on April 30, 1979, when the Lions beat the Arkansas Razorbacks 9-8 in the first game of a doubleheader.

Lindy Snider’s three-run home run in the second inning and RBI double in the fourth helped the Lions to a 6-0 lead. The Razorbacks rallied to take an 8-6 lead, but the Lions won the game with three runs in the seventh, scoring on a passed ball before Gary Wallace’s two-run double to deep center field.

The Razorbacks withstood a last-inning rally to nip the Lions 6-5 in the second game, giving the Razorbacks a 40-9 season record. The Razorbacks, who swept the Lions 5-0 and 3-2 earlier in the season at Fayetteville, finished 49-15 and lost to Cal State-Fullerton 13-10 and 2-1 in the College World Series championship round.

No-hitters

Three Lions pitched seven-inning no-hitters at Joe Becker Stadium.

Barry Jenkins was the first, a 1-0 decision over Columbia College on March 17, 1978, that served as the season opener after 14 weather postponements or cancellations.

Jenkins fanned 15 batters, walked three, and he received the only run support he needed on Doug Adams’ home run in the fourth inning.

Just over one year later, Dave McCaulla tossed a no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Park College on March 31, 1979. McCaulla struggled with his control — five walks and eight strikeouts — but did not allow a ball to be hit out of the infield.

Both no-hitters came in the first game of a doubleheader, and Ralph Jackson won the nightcap both times with a three-hitter against Columbia and one-hitter against Park. He finally got his gem on April 22, 1979, in a 5-0 victory over William Jewell.

Jenkins fanned two and walked three in the game, which was moved to Joe Becker because of poor conditions on the Cardinals’ home field.

Hitters’ delight, pitchers’ nightmare

With a 20 mph wind blowing out that gusted to 30, Joe Becker was a hitter’s paradise.

And the batters didn’t miss often as the Lions outslugged Nebraska-Omaha 27-23 on March 26, 1998.

“You try to keep the ball low, keep it out of the wind. I was throwing the same stuff I normally would have, hoping it wouldn’t get hit too far,” said freshman Wade Early, who gave up eight runs and nine hits in four innings but was the winning pitcher.

The Lions, who were the visiting team, erupted for 12 runs in the top of the first and added eight in the seventh. Brad Ward and Cody Morin drove in seven runs apiece for the Lions, and Dereck Walters had five hits and five runs scored.

The 50 combined runs are the most in an MSSU game at Joe Becker.

By contrast, there were 14 games that ended 1-0, and the Lions won 13 of them.

The Lions’ last 1-0 victory was over Sioux Falls on Feb. 26, 2012. The lone loss was to Missouri Western in 2011.

School records

Many of the Lions’ single-game school records were set at Joe Becker. In chronological order:

• Gary Bradshaw pitched all 11 innings in a 3-2 victory over Missouri Western on March 12, 1983. He allowed seven hits (four of them infield hits), struck out 14, walked five and did not allow an earned run. He retired the Griffons in order in the 10th and 11th innings, and the Lions won the game on a bases-loaded walk to David Mascher.

• Tim Luther, whose fastball was clocked at 92 and 93 mph by Los Angeles Dodgers scout Don Gutteridge, struck out 20 batters in an 8-3 victory over Central Missouri. Luther yielded five hits, three walks and three earned runs. He recorded a strikeout in every inning except the ninth when he retired the Mules on a flyball to left field and two grounders to shortstop.

• Clark Wagner belted a grand slam among his nine runs batted in as the Lions beat Pittsburg State 17-16 in the first game of a twinbill on April 10, 1993. He added three more RBI in the second game, finishing 6-for-8 in the two games.

• Mike Zirngibl stole seven bases in a 19-10 victory over Minnesota-Morris on March 22, 1994. That was a downright offensive day in the Leroy Wilson Classic as five games produced a total of 134 runs, including the Lions’ 13-0 victory over Nebraska-Omaha and Northeastern State’s 27-22, 10-inning victory over Emporia State.

• Wayne Wente rapped four doubles — tying the NCAA Division II record — in a 9-2 victory over Southwest Baptist on April 15, 1994. He also had a two-run homer in the first game, an 8-4 Lion victory.

• Matt Meyr lofted three sacrifice flies in a 10-5 loss to Central Missouri on April 18, 2001. He drove in three more runs in the second game as the Lions won 12-6, ending a 21-game losing streak against the Mules.

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