Mules lead the MIAA through the first quarter of the season

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Written by Muleskinner Staff

By JACOB WOERTHER
Sports Editor

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — The Mules returned home last weekend for the first time this season and swept Fort Hays State, outscoring them 25-6 in three games. The sweep makes the Mules 10-2 on the season and puts them in first place in the MIAA.

PHOTO BY MARIE NABORS / PHOTO EDITOR
Mules pitcher Taylor Burns kept the Tigers scoreless through seven innings Friday, Feb. 24, at Crane Stadium Tompkins Field.

Although the Mules have become accustomed to winning this season, their campaign didn’t start out on such a note. Head coach Kyle Crookes said starting with a loss in a tough series was beneficial to the Mules.

“North Alabama was a really good series to start out with,” Crookes said. “We got punched in the mouth and had to do some things to recover from that.”

Central fell to the Lions 8-4 Friday, Feb. 3, in Millington, Tennessee.

Following that initial loss, the Mules went on to win their final two games in Millington, two of three in Arkadelphia, Arkanasas, and then swept the series in Houston, Texas, before returning home.

The Mules’ 10-2 record puts them on pace for a 40-8 season, five games of ahead of their regular season record last year when they made it to the NCAA Division II National Championship.

Although they’ve found success in the first quarter of the season, Crookes warns against comparing this year’s team to last year’s.

“It’s difficult to put expectations on this year’s team from last year’s team,” Crookes said. “It’s a different group of kids. There were people removed, people added, guys graduated, guys got drafted, and other guys came in.”

Last year the Mules won the MIAA Tournament, the NCAA-II Central Region and made an appearance in the NCAA National Championship Tournament. They were the best pitching team in the MIAA with a team ERA of 3.74.

PHOTO BY MARIE NABORS / PHOTO EDITOR
Mules baseball shutout Fort Hays State 10-0 Thursday, Feb. 23, in their home opener.

While this year’s team is a different group of guys, they may have a similar identity to the year prior.

The Mules pitching has been more than consistent so far this season. Central has the lowest ERA in the MIAA through their first 12 games at 2.14 and they lead the MIAA in strikeouts with 90.

Taylor Burns has the lowest ERA in the MIAA for players averaging one inning per game at 0.48. Steven D’Amico is just two spots behind Burns in the MIAA top-10 with an ERA of 1.23.

Despite a favorable early showing from the rotation, Crookes said there is still room to improve.

“I believe any successful team has the ability to pitch at a high level and that’s what we hope to do,” he said. “We would like for pitching to be (our) strength, but I’m not sure that we’re there yet.”

There are other areas that Crookes plans to improve on throughout the season as well. He expressed concern over the Mules defense. Central currently has the third-most errors in the MIAA at 20.

Although Crookes sees room for improvement, he said he has been pleased with the team’s performance so far. Crookes attributed the team’s hot start to the coaching staff’s preparation and the willingness of each player to learn and work hard.

“They worked…until it seemed redundant to, but there’s no redundancy in baseball.”

The Mules will have a chance to improve on their season on March 3 as they head to Pittsburg State for a three-game series. The first game against the 6-8 Gorillas starts at 2 p.m.