Ichabods still can’t get into swing of things

The Ichabods have lost their last six games, eight of their last 10 and 18 of their last 27. That leaves them with a mediocre 9-18 record, but not out of contention for a spot in the MIAA Tournament.

With series this week against Northwest Missouri and Missouri Western, two teams that sit directly above Washburn in the conference standings, the Bods have a chance to inch closer to the MIAA’s top four and help their odds of making the postseason.

“In the standings, we’re near the bottom,” said second baseman Wes Joy. “But the middle six or seven teams in the conference are all in a pack together with close records.”

Today, the Bods finish up a four-game series with NWMSU (19-14 overall, 9-9 overall), the MIAA’s fourth-place team and current holder of the last spot in the postseason tounament.

WU (9-18, 6-14) needs to jump past NWMSU, Pittsburg State and MWSU to earn a coveted spot amongst the MIAA’s top four, but remains only four games back of the Bearcats following the recent losing streak.

“These upcoming conference games are big,” said Joy. “The four games coming up against Northwest can get us back in the race for fourth. We need to win these, then go back to Western and win some games there.”

The Bearcats are beatable, winning about half their games in every conference series they’ve played in thus far. NWMSU has a .500 record in both home and away games, so the Bearcats’ home-field advantage should not make too big a difference when the Bods visit Maryville.

“Our pitching’s been pretty good overall this year,” said starting pitcher Zach Engelken. “We’ve given up way too many runs in our last few games against Pitt. State and Fort Hays, but it’s things we can fix and turn around if we keep playing hard.”

Despite giving up seven or more runs in five of their last seven games, the Bods still have the second best ERA in the MIAA, trailing only Central Missouri. Hitting, on the other hand, is far from satisfactory. With a team batting average of .255, WU is only .001 ahead of MIAA-worst Truman State.

“We need to just hit the ball better,” said Joy. “Guys have been getting on base, but the main thing we have to do is just get that timely hit. That makes the difference in the close games.”

A home doubleheader Tuesday against Rockhurst separates the Bods’ upcoming conference road series. The Hawks (13-20) will provide a nice break for WU from the always-tight MIAA competition.

“Their pitching is OK,” said Joy. “Other than that, they’re nothing special. We can beat them. We beat them 3-2 when we played there earlier in the season.”

The Bods’ win at Rockhurst in March was their first there since 1994. Engelken earned the win after pitching five innings and allowing only one run on three hits. The Hawks had runners at second and third in the bottom of the ninth, but could not even the score in the game’s final inning after third baseman Joe Hosey threw a Rockhurst runner out at home plate to ensure a WU victory.

“They played us close when we went there last time,” said Engelken. “It was a good game then, and hopefully we can play well enough to win these games against them coming up.”

After a pair of home games, the Bods will hit the road once again for a four-game weekend series at MWSU. The Griffons are seventh in the MIAA, one spot ahead of Washburn, but are only one game out of the MIAA tournament.

Both teams are trying to reach the same goal, and the four games in three days will be a huge factor in deciding which team will have a shot at playing for a spot in the postseason down the stretch.

“Western’s right there with us in the standings,” said Joy. “We want to be where they’re at, just a game out of the MIAA Tournament. Winning a few against them on the road would be a big boost for us with the season starting to wind down.”

While they haven’t played well enough to win their most recent conference games, it isn’t too late for the Bods to leap some teams in the MIAA in the season’s final month. While losses this week would all but end WU’s postseason chances, beating their closest competitors would give the Bods momentum they have not been able to achieve over the past few seasons.

“Our goal coming into this season was to make the MIAA Tournament,” said Joy. “That’s still within our reach, but you have to win conference games to make it happen. If we win these next few series our losing streak doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do from here on out.”