Those early-season showdowns against powerhouses like Oklahoma City University and Embry-Riddle were just warmups.
The biggest games of the year for No. 9 Bellevue University come this weekend against No. 16 York College, senior catcher Ryan Knutz says.
“It most likely determines the league winner and the first seed in the MCAC tournament,” he said.
Bellevue and York meet in 1 p.m. doubleheaders Friday and Saturday at Westgate Field. Both are unbeaten in league play and are riding long win streaks.
The Bruins are 26-4-1 overall and 8-0 in the MCAC, including a 15-3 win at second-ranked Oklahoma City on Feb. 16. The Bruins have won their last 20 games and are off to the best start in school history.
York, which has won its last 19 games, is 28-7 overall and 10-0 in the MCAC.
The Panthers will run into a team that has every aspect of its game clicking, Knutz said.
“Our pitching is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here, our hitting is scrappy and our defense has been phenomenal,” he said.
Leadoff hitter Zack Clark leads the offense with a .406 batting average. He’s tied for ninth in the NAIA with 22 stolen bases.
The Bruins are tied for third in the NAIA in fielding percentage (.970), tied for seventh in opponent batting average (.219), 12th in earned run average (2.73) and 14th in opponent strikeouts (255).
Robert Greco, Kyle Kinman, Michael Calderon, Ricky Holm and Kody McFarland anchor the Bruins’ pitching staff with a combined 21-4 record and 214 strikeouts.
The Panthers, meanwhile, rank third in the NAIA with a 2.35 ERA. Tom Korn leads the team in wins (7-1) and has a 1.67 ERA with 29 strikeouts. His seven wins are tied for ninth in the nation.
“It looks like a good pitching battle, which I like since I’m a catcher,” Knutz said.
The Panthers have seven regulars who bat .300 or better and are paced by Trevor Ramos’ .354 batting average.
Knutz, who hits seventh for the Bruins, said his offense has improved since the start of the season when he seemed to hit it right at opponents. He’s hitting .242 with 22 hits, four doubles and one home run.
“I recently caught fire, which helps your confidence,” he said. “If I get on base, we score more as a team.”
Bellevue and York have won either the MCAC regular-season or conference tournament titles dating back to the 2008 season.
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