#15 St. Cloud State (40-12, 26-8 NSIC) will begin play at the 2019 Warrensburg Central Region Tournament on Thursday, matching up with Central Oklahoma (36-18, 22-11 MIAA) for the second straight season. The Huskies earned the No. 3 seed in the Tournament, as UCO picked up No. 6 in a reversal of the 2018 seedings.
This is a rematch of last season’s Central Region Tournament opener, as SCSU picked up a 5-2 victory over Central Oklahoma behind a vintage Dominic Austing start. The All-American ace fired 8.2 innings of two-run baseball on just three hits and a walk, striking out a season-high 12. Austing’s flashed his electric stuff, piling up 27 whiffs on 133 pitches (20.3%) and inducing soft-contact and ground-ball rates of 52.9%. Sheldon Miks earned his first save of 2018 in relief, and Caeden Harris blasted a two-run home run as part of an evening in which he reached three times.
Central Oklahoma boasts a stellar bullpen. Two-time All-MIAA closer Josh Rutland is the Bronchos career leader in saves, having slammed the door on 23 games over his career. Rutland’s ERA and FIP have taken moderate jumps in his senior campaign, although he’s still been nails to the tune of 3.48 and 3.00 marks across 30 appearances and 31.0 innings, striking out 34 (26.8%) and walking 12 (9.4%) while capping off 12 saves without blowing a single opportunity. The righthander holds opponents to a .232/.312/.330 slash line for an OPS against of .642. Lefthander Landon Bond and righty Junior Obeso serve as arguably the most formidable setup duo in the country, joining Rutland as the three most-utilized relievers nation-wide. The All-MIAA selection Bond has posted a 5-0 record over 32 appearances, tossing 55.2 innings with a jaw-dropping 1.73 FIP and a 3.07 ERA. The lefty has struck out 88 batters for an eye-popping 38.9% K rate, walking 24 (10.6%) while holding foes to a .200 batting average and a .569 OPS. Obeso leads the country in appearances with 34, covering 45.2 innings to the tune of a 3.94 ERA and a 2.95 FIP with a pair of saves. Just like Bond, Obeso strikes out batters at a tremendous clip of 28.4%. Although he’s occasionally struggled with a relatively high 10.7% walk rate, Obeso has allowed just one earned run over his last 7 outings.
First Team All-MIAA Dylan Hall fronts the Bronchos rotation, owning an 8-3 record and a 2.93/2.52 ERA/FIP across 16 appearances, 15 starts, and 101.1 innings. The former Virginia Tech starter has struck out 121 (29.8%) and walked 26 (6.4%) while holding opponents to a .205/.272/.316 slash line for a .588 OPS against. If Hall’s the arm St. Cloud State sees, he’ll be pitching on short rest. After firing a complete-game shutout on 103 pitches in UCO’s MIAA Tournament opener on Thursday, Hall came back to toss 3.0 innings of relief on Sunday, tossing 62 pitches in the process. Over his last four starts, Hall is 3-0 with a 0.55 ERA, having covered 33.0 innings and allowing just two runs on 12 hits and four walks, striking out 36. Hitters have managed a meager .107/.145/.161 triple slash for a .306 OPS during this stretch.
Gabe Littlejim and Brayden Nelson operate as the two and three starters for Central Oklahoma. Littlejim has gone 6-4 over 12 appearances and 11 starts, holding a 3.09 ERA and a 2.74 FIP across 64.0 innings with 65 strikeouts and 24 walks. The righthander has held opponents to a .253 batting average. Nelson owns a team-best 1.79 ERA over 16 appearances and 6 starts. A former starter at Oklahoma Wesleyan, Nelson has struck out 51 (24.6%) and walked just 6 (2.9%) over 55.1 innings.
Central Oklahoma’s lineup has been mildly inconsistent throughout 2019. T.K. McWhertor has handled catching duties throughout the season, belting 12 doubles but managing just a .671 OPS. McWhertor has impressed behind the plate, gunning down 31.6% of opposing basestealers.
First baseman Paul Kropf stands as one of the most fearsome power bats in the MIAA, owning a career .309/.401/.617 slash line with 36 doubles, 6 triples, 52 home runs and 174 RBI over four collegiate seasons and 199 games. The Rose State Community College transfer has had a down year, hitting just .239 with a career-worst 23.1% strikeout rate, but has still managed to blast 10 long balls. Second baseman T.J. Black and third-bagger Philip Scott earned MIAA Gold Gloves this season. Black, a Central Arkansas everyday player in 2018, serves as a rock-steady leadoff man. A lefthanded stick, Black slashes .281/.372/.333 with 18 steals in 22 tries, and strikes out at a minuscule 12.4% clip. Scott has clubbed 14 doubles, two triples and four home runs while stealing 15 bases and hitting .299 with an .864 OPS. Including two seasons at Eastern Oklahoma State Community College, the junior has a career .335/.446/.507 slash line with 38 doubles, 6 triples, 16 home runs and 127 RBI over 166 games. Scott works one of the best at-bats in the country, with strikeout (11.5%) and walk (15.5%) rates very close to his career marks (11.0% and 15.3% respectively). Iowa transfer Kyle Crowl has spent time at short and DH this year, slashing .267/.373/.466 with 11 doubles and 9 homers. The righthanded bat has knocked in 38 and draws walks at a 12.4% clip.
Speedster centerfielder Brock Ruminer is a threat on the basepaths, having swiped 31 bags in 33 tries. Ruminer is hitting .300 with an .855 OPS. Although his speed is dangerous, the righty bat went just 1-16 with 10 strikeouts at the MIAA Tournament. Taylor Avila provides prodigious power in the corners, owning 43 doubles and 40 home runs throughout the course of his collegiate career. Avila is slashing .281/.419/.477 with 11 doubles and 5 long balls in his senior campaign. Dru Barrier likely will receive the start at the other corner.
The winner of Thursday’s 7:00 p.m. matchup will play the winner of #12 Central Missouri and Missouri Southern on Friday at noon. The respective losers of each Thursday game will meet at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
All Warrensburg Central Region Tournament action can be heard on the KVSC Sports Stream with Thomas Breach on the call. Husky Den PreGame starts at 6:45 p.m. Thursday evening.