Last season, the MacMurray College Highlanders (Ill.) halted the Webster University baseball team’s seven-game winning streak with a come-from-behind, extra-inning victory.
MacMurray’s 8-4 win in 10 innings on April 10, 2012 was the Highlanders’ first victory over the Gorloks since March 2006. Webster had defeated the Highlanders 15 times in a row prior to last year’s loss.
When the Gorloks took on the Highlanders in a Saturday, March 23 doubleheader to open the 2013 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season, Webster coach Bill Kurich made sure his squad didn’t look past them. The Gorloks got the message, as they throttled MacMurray 10-0 and 7-2 in Jacksonville, Ill., to open SLIAC play with a 2-0 record.
“There are a number of teams in this league that if you don’t show up ready to play and are going to overlook them, they can certainly beat you,” Kurich said. “Obviously, we saw that last year. Greenville (College) beat us two out of three. Fontbonne (University) played us in three very close games, and Eureka (College) beat us once as well. We take that to heart, and we certainly want to make sure we show up ready to play.”
Webster entered the two-game set against MacMurray on a four-game winning streak, and the Gorloks (9-5 overall) have now won six consecutive games by a combined margin of 40-13. Webster is ranked 18th nationally in the most recent D3baseball.com Top 25 poll.
The Gorloks’ pitching has keyed the team’s recent torrid stretch. In Game 1 against MacMurray, senior right-hander Steven Dooley threw 6 innings, allowing no runs on 3 hits while striking out 8.
Dooley has a 1.03 ERA for the season and has struck out 30 hitters in 35 innings of work. He has not allowed an earned run in his last three starts (23 2/3 total innings), which encompasses games against No. 1-ranked Wheaton College (Mass.), No. 2-ranked Marietta College (Ohio) and MacMurray.
“The pitching staff has been outstanding to the point that (starting) pitchers are getting so far into games that we’re struggling to get some relievers some time, which they need to do because we’ve got some good ones out there waiting to go,” Kurich said. “… We will go as far as our pitching takes us, and right now the pitching is leading the way for us. We’re excited about those guys, and we need them to keep it up.”
In Game 2 against MacMurray, senior right-hander Cody Hafeli continued his strong start to the season by allowing 2 runs — 1 earned — in 7 innings of work. Hafeli has conceded 1 or zero earned runs in three of his four starts and is 3-1 on the season with a 2.36 ERA.
“We know what kind of pitching staff we have. We don’t have anybody that’s really going to come in and overpower anybody,” Hafeli said. “We know if we throw strikes, get groundballs, get fly balls and rely on our defense behind us, we can beat anybody.
“… Going through and seeing No. 1 Wheaton and No. 2 Marietta at the time, I think we can compete just as well with anybody with who we have. We have some good older guys; we also have younger guys. We’ve got some of the top arms in Division III, so it’s nice to rely on that.”
Junior catcher Ian Foege, who caught both Dooley and Hafeli in Webster’s wins over MacMurray, was one of the Gorloks’ offensive standouts in their two victories over the Highlanders. Foege went a combined 3 for 7 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored.
Foege is playing his first season at Webster after transferring from Jefferson College (Mo.). He said he has quickly developed chemistry with the Gorloks’ pitching staff.
“I really like our staff as a whole,” Foege said. “It makes my job real easy when they’re doing the things they’re doing. It’s not too hard for me when they’ve been as consistent as they’ve been. So, all the credit goes to them.”
Webster was originally scheduled to host MacMurray in the finale of the teams’ three-game series on Monday, March 25, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather. As of press time, a makeup date has not been announced.
Next up for Webster is a home game against SLIAC foe Westminster College (Mo.) on Thursday, March 28 at 3:30 p.m. at GCS Ballpark. Westminster (6-3 overall) is in first place in the SLIAC with a 3-0 record.
The Gorloks then host Eureka (Ill.) for a three-game series on Friday, March 29 and Saturday, March 30. Webster plays a single game against Eureka at 1 p.m. on March 29 followed by a doubleheader starting at 3 p.m. on March 30. Eureka (2-4 overall, 0-3 SLIAC) was swept by Westminster in the teams’ SLIAC-opening series.
Webster has won the last six SLIAC regular-season championships as well as the last six SLIAC tournament titles. The Gorloks were selected as the preseason favorite in the 2013 SLIAC Coaches’ Poll. Kurich said this is a position he and his team like being in.
“I’m not going to tell my guys that, ‘Hey, we don’t deserve to be on top or we don’t deserve to be looked up to in terms of the other teams in the league,’” Kurich said. “We enjoy being there. That’s an advantage we have earned and use to our best ability. You’ve got to show up to defend that title, defend that type of perception of what teams have of you. They show up ready to beat us and we realize that, so we’ve got to be prepared and defend our trophy. That’s ours, and we’re not letting it go.
“That’s kind of what’s come to some of the teams now after having won six in a row. These guys don’t want to be the guys that don’t live up to the expectations. There’s a little pressure there, and it’s good. We’re happy about that.”