By Rick Peterson
Washburn University baseball will host Northeastern State this weekend in an MIAA Tournament first round best-of-three series starting Friday at Falley Field.
The series opener is set for 5 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, the third game will be Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Ichabods are the tournament's No. 3 seed and finished the regular season with a series win at Pittsburg State for an overall record of 29-20 and 21-12 in MIAA play.
Washburn's 29 MIAA victories is its most conference wins since the 2016 season.
The RiverHawks (21-25, 15-18) are the sixth seed and closed out the regular season winning four of their last five games.
The two teams have already played a series in Topeka this season back on March 10-12, with the Ichabods winning the series, 2-1.
Washburn was picked fifth in the 2023 MIAA Coaches Preseason Poll and the RiverHawks were selected third after going 38-18 (22-11 MIAA) last year.
In 2022 Washburn reached its first NCAA postseason and finished the season 33-22 (19-14 MIAA).
Central Missouri (36-13, 27-6) is the top seed in the MIAA Tournament and will host No. 8 Rogers State (26-20, 14-19).
Missouri Southern (38-12, 25-8) finished two games behind UCM and is the No. 2 seed and will host No. 7 seed Newman (22-28, 14-19).
No. 4 seed Pittsburg State (31-17, 21-12) will play host to No. 5 seed Central Oklahoma (31-17, 18-15).
The four winning teams will advance to the double-elimination MIAA Championship Tournament hosted by Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo. on May 11-14.
The Ichabods are 25-31 overall in MIAA postseason play.
Washburn placed seven players on the 2023 All-MIAA teams that were announced this week.
Rane Pfeifer, Casey Steward and Ike Book were named to the second team. It was Steward's second straight season earning second team honors.
Cal Watkins, who received honorable mention last season, earned a third-team selection this year.
Trevor McCollum, Trey Adams and Chase Torkelson all earned honorable mention.
Book ended the regular season ranked third in the league in batting average (.396) and fifth in on base percentage (.483). Overall, he has 59 hits with 14 that have gone for extra bases and is tied for second on the squad in RBI (38), second in slugging percentage (.557), and has scored 27 runs.
Watkins is the only Ichabod to have started every game this season and ranks in the top three on the team in 10 stat categories, including hits (73/first), doubles (14/first), runs scored (48/t-first), stolen bases (12/second), and batting average (.353/third). He has recorded a team-high 22 multi-hit games this year.
Cale Savage has reached base in 18 straight games and leads the team with 11 home runs and 52 RBI, is tied for the team-lead in triples and in runs scored with 48,
Hayden product Andrew Schmidtlein has played in 39 games with 25 starts and moved into the leadoff spot for the past seven games. He is hitting .287 with 27 hits, 25 RBI and 23 runs scored.
Pfeifer improved to 4-2 after his last start at Pittsburg State, going 62/3 frames and allowing three runs, four hits and four walks while striking out eight.
Pfeifer has turned in a career season in his senior campaign as he holds a 4.30 ERA (fifth in MIAA) and 87 strikeouts (fourth) after throwing 69.0 frames (eighth) in 13 starts. He holds the lowest opponent batting average of any pitcher in the MIAA at .188 and also allowed the fewest hits with 45. His 5.87 hits per nine innings ranks 10th in Division II.
Steward has also made 13 starts and is 4-4 with one complete game. He has a 4.64 ERA after hurling a team-high 732/3 innings (sixth in MIAA) and leads the conference and ranks sixth in Division II with 100 strikeouts.
Washburn and Northeastern State have played each other 36 times since 1989 and the RiverHawks hold a 20-16 series advantage.