Joplin, Mo. -- The Missouri Southern baseball team will open up the 2014 season this weekend as the Lions play host to visiting Minnesota-Crookston in a four-game series at Joe Becker Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday's double-header will begin at 1 pm and Sunday's twin bill is slated to start at noon. All games can be heard live via the link above, and live stats will also be available via the link at the top of the story.
Southern, the defending MIAA Tournament Champion, was picked to finish fourth in the preseason MIAA baseball coaches poll. The team is also receiving votes in both the coaches' and baseball writer's preseason national polls, and was picked sixth in the preseason baseball writer's Central Region poll.
The Lions were 34-22 last season and won the MIAA Tournament on a dramatic walk-off home run from Sam Ryan, defeating fifth-ranked Missouri Western for the MIAA Title. Southern, the third-place MIAA team in the regular season, earned the MIAA's automatic berth to the NCAA Central Region Tournament in Mankato, Minn. and took on Minnesota State in a dramatic 14-inning opener. The Lions lost on a bunt in the 14th, 1-0 after seeing starter Brett Abell throw 11 shutout innings to start the game.
The Lions returns two All-MIAA performers from a year ago in pitchers Ryan Batesand Payton Walker. Bates went 8-3 witha 3.88 ERA, while Walker, as a true freshman, went 6-5 and had a 3.50 ERA. Senior David Reese returns to the pitching staff, as well as fellow senior Drew Noble as Southern returns four of their five starters from last season. Reese struck out 52 and walked just ten, while Noble went 7-4 with 45 strikeouts.
Senior Tee Helsel returns, as well as fellow senior Zack Steadman, as the lone Lions with starts in the field last year. Helsel hit .294 and was second on the team with five home runs, while Steadman carried a .411 on base percentage and a perfect 5-5 mark on the basepaths.
Minnesota-Crookston was picked to finish 15th in the preseason Northern Sun baseball coaches poll. The Golden Eagles were 1-42 a season ago.