Faithful fans don’t have to wait much longer: the Fort Hays State University baseball and softball teams are about to spring into action.
The baseball team has been picked to take No. 5, according to the MIAA Baseball Preseason Coaches’ Poll after finishing last season in sixth and appearing in the MIAA Tournament Championship Game.
The University of Central Missouri led the poll with 14 of 15 first-place votes. The Mules are the three-time defending conference champions and are ranked No. 4 in the nation to start the season. Missouri Western State University took the No. 2 spot in the poll with a single vote. Emporia State University came up No. 3, while a new face to the conference, the University of Central Oklahoma, took the final spot above Fort Hays.
A number of familiar faces are ready to return to the field, including seniors Ryan Busboom, Chris Santoscoy, Jay Sanders and Shane Wade. While Busboom ruled the outfield, Santoscoy covered second base with Sanders and Wade catching behind the plate.
Seniors Alex Ellison, Jesse Hart, Kyle Leroy, Sam Thornton, Tayler Davis and Nathan Zimmerman expect to have effective appearances on the mound the season.
New additions to the roster include seven transfer students and four freshmen. Hays’ own Nick Hammeke signed with the team after an outstanding career at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School. Hammeke appears on the roster as both an infielder and a right-handed pitcher.
The Tigers are under the coaching of Steve Johnson for the third straight year. Coach Johnson has a winning record of 57-47 as head coach, and will be inducted in the Barton Community College Athletic Hall of Fame this Saturday for his time as a Cougar.
The softball team was selected No. 4 after the MIAA Softball Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Last season, Fort Hays finished No. 3 in the MIAA.
Emporia State University was picked to be No. 1 in the MIAA with 12 of 15 first-place votes. Undefeated in conference play last season, Emporia State finished the year as the conference tournament champion.
Taking spots No. 2 and No. 3 are University of Central Oklahoma and Missouri Western State University. Central Oklahoma received the three remaining first-place votes.
Unlike the baseball team, the softball team has one returning senior. Maddie Holub had a remarkable 2011-2012 season as a starting pitcher. Holub recorded 306 strikeouts, crushing the single-season school record, and managed to pitch a no-hitter.
Other returning key players include juniors Callie Wright and Kellsi Olsen and sophomores Amanda Vaupel and Madison Putman.
Freshmen Hunter Klamm, Kelli Koehler, Kylie Strand and Samantha Villareal are new additions to the team. The four hope to contribute to the team, despite their status as freshmen.
The softball team is in the hands of head coach Erin Kinberger for the second year. Coach Kinberger has a reputation to uphold after a record of 31-19 in her first season.
The first baseball game is Friday, Feb. 8, in Denver, Colo. against Metropolitan State University of Denver. Friday’s game is the first of a three-game series. The home opener will for the Tigers will be 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, against University of Central Missouri in a double-header.
The softball team takes the field at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Tiger Stadium to open the season. They will face University of Nebraska-Kearney in a double-header.