For the ISU baseball club, Spring Break isn’t a time to get away and relax — it’s a time to get away and fine-tune skills before they dive into the regular season.
For this year's National Collegiate Baseball Association’s spring training showcase, the club headed to Plant City, Fla., to play six games in a five day span. During the weeklong stay, the club was able to squeeze out two wins with the remaining four games resulting in losses. Two of those loses were by a combined total of three runs.
Here are five takeaways from the club's trip to Plant City:
2-4 spring trip familiar record
A 2-4 record on the spring break trip isn’t something the club is new to. Last year's squad went 2-4 in Florida and ended the season at No. 5 in the NCBA DI polls.
In a game against Minnesota, the club was in line for a win, but a late-inning collapse doomed them. Three days later the Cyclones suffered an extra-inning defeat after clawing back from a 3-1 deficit against SUNY- Brockport.
“We could have easily flipped our record,” said junior Matt Odland, the club president. “Our pitchers gave us a chance, but our run support wasn’t there.”
Bonding leads to success
Of the 16 guys that went on the trip, only six had previously gone, while 10 had never been or were new to the club. The trip not only acted as a tune-up for the season, but also provided a chance for the team to bond and gain trust in each other.
Kyle Rhodus, a freshman outfielder, knew no one on the team prior to joining. Rhodus saw this trip as an opportunity to forge a bond with the team and make memories that go beyond baseball.
“It’s a chance for me to gain trust in the guys and for the guys to gain trust in me,” Rhodus said. “We can grow on and off the field.”
Freshman pitcher Bobby Thompson shone bright in his first games as a Cyclone. Thompson led the team with a 2.57 ERA over seven innings on the mound. Thompson also batted .400 for the week with four hits.
Rhodus finished with five hits and three RBIs. Fellow freshman Kevin McMurray also carried a bulk of the pitching and allowed one walk over five innings of work.
“I was unsure on what to expect as far as competition,” Thompson said. “They certainly weren’t bad, and I quickly settled into the level of play.”
Improvements needed to compete
In order to reach its goals, the club will ultimately need to polish up its game in several areas. Odland was pleased with the pitching, but said the defense looked jittery at the start of the week.
An area that the club excelled in was its running game. They went 16 for 18 in stolen bases and Colton Hageman led the way with a perfect 6 for 6.
“We don’t have that one guy that can consistently put the ball over the fence,” Odland said. “We are going to have to rely on our small-ball game a lot.”
Small ball was exactly what won the club its game against Ohio State. The lead-off man got on base in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Cyclones and Odland put on the bunt sign for the batter in an attempt to move the man over.
A wild pitch got the baserunner to second, and then a bunt down the third base line ended the game after the third basemen sailed the ball past the first basemen.
“The games we won and competed in was very high,” Rhodus said. “When we won on the walk off error, the dugout piled onto the field and that was really cool.”
Despite a disappointing spring trip, the club still has high hopes on capturing the conference title and defeating Iowa. Kellen Yoder, a senior, provided an offensive spark for the Cyclones over their trip and if Yoder can stay hot, then the club will be in the drivers seat to win conference.
“Our schedule plays to our favor,” Odland said. “We open with South Dakota, which will help get back into the swing of things and then we have a three weekends of home games.”
The slow start could be credited to jitters, but there are no guarantees of making it back to the World Series. Small ball will benefit greatly to the club and their run to Paducah.
“We have the talent to get back to Paducah,” Thompson said. “We just need to back to the field and work out the things we struggled with.”