Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sluggers look to Division II for tuneup

April 16, 2002

After splitting a series with Indiana during the weekend, the MSU baseball team is turning its attention to Wayne State today.

The Spartans (22-8 overall, 6-5 Big Ten) host the Warriors (11-13, 7-3 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference) at 3 p.m. at Kobs Field.

Despite Wayne State’s status as a Division II school, the Spartans know they can’t look past the Warriors.

“A lot of people look at a team like Wayne State to pad your stats,” senior center fielder Chris McCuiston said. “Then you try to overproduce and you end up hurting yourself.

“You can never, ever overlook a team. If you overlook a team, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

The offensive numbers undoubtedly favor the Spartans. MSU’s main weapon of choice this year has been the long ball, of which the team has smacked 57 so far this season, three away from a new single-season Spartan record.

“I’d love to be the one to put the one over,” McCuiston said. “All the guys know we’re getting close and everybody wants to be the one that breaks the record.”

The Warriors, on the other hand, could use some long balls in their offensive mix. As a team, Wayne State has hit a mere six dingers this season. The six long balls are fewer than the personal totals of four different Spartans.

The Spartans also edge out the Warriors in most other offensive categories. Along with the home-run margin, MSU has the batting average advantage at .350 to .262, a slugging percentage advantage of .596 to .352 and a runs-scored advantage of 276 to 97.

“We just have to stick to our game plan, throw strikes as pitchers and get ahead and our hitters will come through like they have all season,” junior right-hander Pat Gill said. “No matter what team we’re playing - no matter if it’s a Big Ten game or if we’re playing a D-II school, we just have to stick to our guns.”

The Warriors’ pitching staff is led by left-hand reliever Ryan Woodard (4-0, 1.77 ERA). When the offense has struggled, Woodard and fellow southpaw reliever Rick Okis (2-0, 4.40) have kept the team in games. The two provide a potential roadblock for the Spartans.

“We just have to hit the ball hard and up the middle,” junior left fielder Brett Wattles said. “If our pitchers throw strikes, we’ll be all set and we’ll hopefully get in a groove and get ready for this weekend. We shouldn’t see a problem.”

Wayne State is led by a trio of hitters. Center fielder Ron Kochan and first baseman Tim Baywal lead the team in hitting, batting .362 and .353, respectively. Right fielder Mark Davis leads the team in homers and RBIs with three and 13, respectively.

Junior second baseman Charlie Braun said the numbers don’t fool him.

“We’re taking it game by game and we’re just trying to win every game,” Braun said. “In baseball, anything can happen - anyone can beat anyone on any given day. We just have to come out and play hardball.”

MSU takes on in-state rival Michigan this weekend and the team wants to send an early message to the Wolverines.

“We can’t overlook Wayne State with Michigan coming up this weekend,” senior shortstop Jared Koutnik said. “We have eight seniors that will make sure the team isn’t looking past this game, but we’re going use this as a tuneup.”


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