TEAM VALUE: Being a teammate at MSSU about more than production

Apr. 12—Missouri Southern's baseball team has been powered by some MIAA-leading performers in starting pitcher Cole Gayman and shortstop Henry Kusiak.

Gayman leads or is at the top of many pitching statistics in the conference while Kusiak is at or near the top of many offensive categories. But the value that a player can bring to this team goes beyond that production and really, any production at all.

"Your value for our team is not just what you do on the field," MSSU head coach Bryce Darnell said. "We talk about that a lot. We spend more days practicing than we do playing so your value is much more than your production on the field."

That belief has trickled down to Kusiak and Gayman.

"It's just about keeping the team together, staying positive, cheering on the team as a whole," Gayman said. "Because whenever the team's having fun together, getting along together and having a positive mindset, we're just fine."

"It's a belief in your teammates, too. It's not one guy in baseball. You can't get on base and score yourself," Kusiak said. "You have to trust the guys behind you to do their job and it helps you play relaxed and play confident."

The Lions place value on being a good teammate.

Darnell said Drew Davis is a perfect example of providing that value from the dugout and then turning it into value on the field. The senior played in a lot more games last year. In fact, he hadn't started since March 16, but he has now started in the last three games.

In each of those, he has two hits and has one home run in those six hits.

"He was awesome when he wasn't playing, and that's hard to do, man, for a senior that had the success he had," Darnell said.

Other names Darnell mentioned who are experienced leaders in the dugout but don't get as much time in games were Tyler Ferguson, Jacob Davis and Ryan Cline. Ferguson and Davis are seniors and Cline is a redshirt junior.

"They've been a huge part of our success the past couple years," Darnell added.

Their production is still vital as it's obviously what has turned in a 30-10 record in the second week of April. The Lions sit in second place in the MIAA standings with a 17-7 conference record behind Central Missouri's 22-2 mark.

MSSU will have a key series from April 26-28 to end the regular season when it travels to Warrensburg to face the Mules.

Southern ranks third in team batting average (.306) behind Washburn (.328) and UCM (.366). It is second in runs, third in hits, second in doubles, second in triples and fourth in home runs.

The offense comes in fourth in slugging percentage and second in on-base percentage.

"There's not a hole in our lineup. One through nine, we're dynamic. We get on base. We slug," Kusiak said.

Gayman added that "they're dangerous" about the offense, and said pitching with an offense like that on your side gives the entire pitching staff added confidence.

On defense, the Lions are fifth-best with 39 errors committed on the year but rank third with a .973 fielding percentage.

Missouri Southern is second in team earned-run average with a 4.73 behind Central Oklahoma's 4.66. The pitching staff has the third-most shutouts (4) and saves (11) in the league this year. It's surrendered the third-fewest runs (204) and second-fewest earned runs (181).

The Lions lead the MIAA with 346 strikeouts as a staff and the next most is 318 by Missouri Western. Opponents bat just .270 against them, which is the fourth-lowest average for MIAA pitching staffs.

"Knowing that I have that defense behind me, it's just going out there and letting them (opponents) put the bat on the ball and letting my defense work for me," Gayman said of his success.

Kusiak added that the pitching staff has bailed the offense out at times when it's struggling to get going and doesn't score many runs.

MSSU looks to reach its peak down the stretch with nine regular season games left to play before the postseason begins.

"We're ready. We're ready to step it up these last few weeks," Gayman said. "We're playing for conference seeding, we're playing for regionals. That's the most important thing, trying to get to the best we can before postseason comes around."