Derek Shore: Gorillas hitting stride at right time

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Derek Shore, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
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Apr. 8—The Pittsburg State baseball team has hit its stride, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

"I think we have played really well on the road lately," PSU baseball coach Bob Fornelli said, whose team is 11-2 on the road versus 5-5 at Al Ortolani Field this season. "We haven't been at home for a while. I think the kids have become closer on the road. We just got to continue to grind. We know we have a big weekend ahead of us. We got to play together and fight through all the adversity."

The Gorillas (16-7, 12-6 MIAA) face the toughest part of their schedule coming up.

No. 4 Central Missouri comes to town for a three-game set, starting at 6 p.m. Friday. The Mules are coming off a sweep of then No. 10 Missouri Southern on the road, a series that pushed the Lions out of the NCAA Division II top 25 this week.

"It's not good when you go to third base on Tuesday night and the umpire tells you that might be the best Division II team I have seen," Fornelli said. "They do a little bit of everything. They have always been known for pitching. I think their power has stepped up this year. They are always going to compete at the plate and try to take the extra base. They have always been a great team."

But make no mistake, PSU is playing as well as any team in the MIAA right now, claiming 10 of its last 12 contests. The Gorillas' offense is averaging seven runs during that stretch while the pitching staff has carried a 3.03 ERA.

PSU has a good balance of power and speed. The Gorillas rank fourth in the MIAA with 25 long balls and are tied with UCM for first with 52 stolen bases.

Garrett McGowan, an Illinois transfer, has been the team's best hitter in terms of run production, leading the way with seven home runs and 30 runs driven in. Ryan Koval paces the team in hitting with a .362 clip and 15 extra-base hits (eight triples, four doubles and three homers) in 23 games.

Koval has also been effective on the base paths, stealing seven bags in eight attempts. Mason Hartman, Cruz Aranda and Aaron Gerdes have also been pests for opposing pitchers, swiping a combined 28 bags.

"I think it has been a different guy everyday," Fornelli said. "We came into the year where we thought two or three guys were really going to take off and lead us, but we have had some other guys step up. They have done a really good job. Up and down the lineup, there has been a different guy step up each day."

David Henderson has been perhaps PSU's most dependable pitcher, posting a 2.41 ERA in seven starts.

"He gives you a chance to win each and every time he has run out there this year," Fornelli said. "He is a competitor. He can throw three pitches for a strike."

Fornelli also singled out a few other standouts.

"Cruz has had a really good year," Fornelli said. "A guy that has come out of nowhere was Aaron. He's really had a nice year in the outfield for us and done a good job offensively. Mason has had a pretty good year so far, but he has to find a way to first. When he gets to first, we have a chance to score a run every time he does. Up and down the pitching staff, we have done a good job. There for a while it wasn't pretty. Two of our three weekend starters aren't starting anymore. They are pitching out of the 'pen about mid-week.

"We have had some other guys step up. We are by committee as a staff, but for the most part, all of those guys have given us a chance when we have handed them the ball."

The Gorillas face a tall order with the Mules, but it's a challenge they welcome.

"We are going to look forward to the challenge," Fornelli said. "It's never going to be easy, but we are not going to back down. We are going to compete as hard as we can, and figure it out after that."