Buried in 14th place, Northwest Missouri State's baseball team needs to get their season turned around soon in order to have a shot at making the MIAA Tournament.
Playing in their favor to do so is a schedule that begins to soften up this weekend.
After facing six of the MIAA's current top eight teams, Northwest plays 11 of its next 13 games against one's in the bottom of the half of the MIAA. That includes two with Washburn at home, who the Bearcats have already beaten twice on the road.
"When you look at those games with teams lower in the standings, I assume a lot of those are still ahead of us," said Northwest Missouri State head baseball coach Darin Loe. "Our motto is respect everybody and fear nobody. I guarantee all those teams we play are capable of beating us. The bottom line is we need to take care of our job whether we're playing the No. 1 team or the No. 15 team."
On paper, one of Northwest's best chances all year at winning or sweeping a road series arrives this weekend when they face Truman State for a three-game set in Kirksville.
The series was moved up a day due to weather concerns. It starts today with a nine-inning game at 3 p.m. and continues Saturday with a doubleheader that begins at noon.
Northwest (6-16, 4-13) was one game back of Truman State (5-15, 4-14) in the standings as of Thursday when the Bulldogs hosted Lindenwood.
Both teams are seeking their first three-game series win of the season.
Northwest lost its two mid-week conference games to first-place Missouri Western 10-4 and 7-2.
"I don't put any pressure on our team or myself to go out and put a number on them," said Loe. "We just got to go out and compete. If we can turn that corner, competing on every at-bat and on every pitch, the results are going to take care of themselves. Certainly, this team has the ability to do it. We've been a little off our game. We just haven't gotten on that roll. We got to go back on the field and prepare and do everything we can to make it happen this weekend."
Struggling in all areas, the Bearcats are currently ranked just 14th in batting average, 13th in runs scored and 12th in team ERA.
Outfielder Tyler Durant leads the Bearcats with a .356 average and catcher J.J. Baccari (.313) is the only regular hitting above .300.
All-conference players Ryan Abernathy, Eric McGlauflin and Eric Swain are all hitting below. 260.
Austin Warren (1-3, 6.29) has the top ERA among all starters, but Loe is seeing signs that the pitching is coming around.
Page 2 of 2 - "I think our starting pitching has been solid," said Loe. "We still got to keep being a little more consistent. Against Missouri Western, if we can eliminate the bad inning in each of those games, we have an opportunity to at least keep it close. We just got to do a better job on the mound, get some base runners on, get them over and get them in."
Northwest's offense should be more productive this weekend against a Bulldog staff that ranks last in the MIAA with a 10.07 ERA.
Truman is also last in fielding percentage, 12th in batting average and 10th in runs scored.
The Bulldogs main run producer is Paul Trenhaile who leads Truman with a .412 average, three homers and 23 RBIs.
Blake Marino (.385) and Corbin Williams (.360) are the team's other two top bats.
Only Trenhaile has more than one home run.
Mark Roberts (2-1, 6.43) sports the lowest ERA on the starting staff.
"Truman State is always very well-coached," said Loe. "They do the little things well. Coach (Dan) Davis over there does a great job. They're going to bunt. They're going to steal. They're going to throw strikes. They're going to put pressure on you. On the road, on a cold day, anything can happen. If we go take care of business and play our game, we have an opportunity to be successful."
Northwest burned its No. 1 and No. 2 starters Warren and Blane Reutter Wednesday.
The team's projected weekend starters are Ryker Fox (1-4, 7.09), Marcus Garrett (1-1, 6.35) and Chase Anderson (2-3, 7.52).
This won't be an idle weekend for the Northwest Missouri State softball team after all.
The Bearcats were able to schedule a home doubleheader with Northern State at 1 p.m. today after it was announced Wednesday that the Missouri Western Invitational was cancelled due to weather.
Northwest and Northern State—a member of the Northern Sun Conference—were both part of the tournament field. Even with adding the doubleheader, the Bearcats still miss out on four region games.
The Bearcats (13-7, 3-3) lost their last two games to Missouri Western 2-1 and 6-4 Tuesday.
Northwest's next conference games are Mar. 29 at Pittsburg State.
Northwest Missouri State's tennis teams will log plenty of bus miles over Spring Break.
The men's team plays five road/neutral site matches on five straight days and the women are in action the last four of those. The men take on Harding today in Springfield.
Both teams visit Midwestern State and Cameron before heading northeast to face conference opponents Lindenwood and Truman State.