By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
The scariest part of the 35-3 record for the LSUS baseball team is that it could … actually … possibly … be better?
The first loss came in a game in which the Pilots led 6-4 going into the final inning. The second loss was in a game LSUS led 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh. The latest loss was a one-run defeat in which the Pilots “didn’t execute in areas that we feel like we are normally pretty efficient in,” according to head coach Brad Neffendorf. (Translation: mental mistakes.)
But before you let 38-0 enter your mind, Neffendorf is quick to add, “but it could be the other way too. We had some close games that we pulled out.”
And the last thing you want to do is hack them off. After the first loss, they won the next game 12-3. After the second? A 15-5 demolition. And the third? Rinse and repeat – a 13-3 final.
Oh, and did anyone mention that between the second loss (Feb. 19) and the third loss (April 9), LSUS rattled of 23 straight wins? (For a little perspective, no Major League Baseball has won that many in a row since 1916.)
For someone whose team rarely loses, Neffendorf is quite philosophical about it.
“Nobody plays to lose a game, nobody coaches to lose a game, nobody works to lose a game,” he said. “But you are allowed to lose a game. We tell our guys a team can’t beat you but you can be beat. That’s how we feel about our club.”
The Pilots will open a three-game series against Texas College Friday at Pilot Field in a Red River Athletic Conference matchup. Or at least they hope to. The Steers are 0-23 overall – all in conference.
If there is some kind of scheduling snafu, it certainly won’t be the first time for LSUS this year. The Pilots have been off since last week because of no mid-week opponents.
“It’s been a very weird year in regard to mid-week games,” Neffendorf said. “We get them cancelled all the game. I don’t know if it’s our location or what. But it’s just tough for us to get mid-week games consistently.”
Since RRAC play started, LSUS has played only three midweek games.
The Pilots, the No. 3-ranked team in the latest NAIA poll, are 22-2 in the conference with a three-game lead over LSU-Alexandria. They are second in the nation in team batting average at .361.
“We score runs pretty well because we are athletic,” Neffendorf said. “We try get these guys to understand that we need to score runs three ways – with the barrel with our swings, with our feet on the bases and with the short game. But we are able to produce runs because we are really athletic. And we do play defense really well.”
The winning streak was broken last week in a 4-3 loss at Jarvis Christian. The Pilots still won two of the three played in the series and both of the wins were by at least 10 runs.
“Everything with us is about response,” the third-year coach said. “How do you respond to a loss? We lost the second conference game of the year and then won 23 in a row.”
LSUS has a 1-2 pitching combination of senior Kevin Miranda, a Panama native, and sophomore Bobby Vath, who are a combined 19-1 this season.
Time for an amazing stat: Miranda has 113 strikeouts and only four walks. “That’s unheard of,” Neffendorf said. “He has been one of the best arms in college baseball all year.”
Miranda leads all of NAIA in strikeouts by 15.
Vath is 10-0, tying him for second in wins in the nation. “He’s our Friday night starter,” Neffendorf said. “He sets the tone for the weekend.”
LSUS also has experience on the left side of the infield with third baseman J.J. Flores (.400) and shortstop Austin McNicholas (.424), seniors who are in their third year as starters. “I’d put that left side up against anybody,” Neffendorf said. “They are as good as they come.”
With postseason play on the horizon, Neffendorf is more concerned about mounting a winning streak at the end of the season.
“If you are trying to put yourself in a position to get back to the (NAIA) World Series and win the four or five games it takes to win it, you have to be the hunted instead of the hunter,” he said. “They’ve done a really good job with that. They’ve been a group that’s been even-keeled with the approach. They work hard in practice and we put them through a lot.”
(Photo courtesy LSUS).