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May 3, 2018MARYVILLE, Mo.
Darin Loe didn't expect a 19-year wait before winning his first MIAA Championship as head baseball coach at Northwest Missouri State University, but just two more wins this weekend will give Loe and the Bearcats that hardware they've been longing for.
"I was hoping that a conference championship would come a little sooner in my career," Loe said in an interview with John Coffey, "but from my stand point, it's for the kids. These guys have worked so hard, and have just been a real close-knit group, and a special group to me."
Northwest (29-18, 24-9 MIAA) meets Central Oklahoma Friday through Sunday as two of the top three teams meet in the final series of the regular season. The Bearcats sit alone atop the conference standings with a one-game lead on UCO and Central Missouri, and two wins will give them the conference title outright.
One more win for the Bearcats will also give the program back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 2004-2005 when the club won 34 games in consecutive seasons.
The key to the push up the MIAA standings has been the big arms leading the Northwest Missouri State rotation.
Senior Joseph Hietpas is the career strikeouts leader at Northwest with 320 through his four years, and he currently leads the MIAA with 106 this season. Hietpas also boasts an 8-2 record -- the most wins in the league -- with six quality starts.
Following Hietpas in the rotation, another senior is putting together a solid season. Brad Roberts only trails Hietpas in strikeouts in the conference this spring with 96 Ks. He also leads the MIAA in strikeouts looking with 36, and is fourth in the league with a 3.18 ERA in conference games. Overall, Roberts is 6-5 on the season.
"Pitching kind of carries us for the most part," Loe said, "the first two starters, Joe Hietpas and Brad Roberts, two awfully good starters. Hopefully those guys go deep into games, get to our short bullpen with (Jacob) Wagner and (Trevor) Dudar."
A tandem that's been tough to beat in the MIAA. Dudar leads the league with 13 saves, and Wagner has a 2.72 ERA through 28 appearances.
The 'Cats have been led offensively by transfer catcher Hudson Bilodeau. Bilodeau is fourth in the conference with a .400 batting average against MIAA opponents, four home runs and 22 RBIs. Mondesi Gutierrez has also made his presence felt earning MIAA Player of the Week honors last week after batting .588 with three home runs, three doubles and 9 RBIs in a sweep of Southwest Baptist.
This weekend's three-game series against Central Oklahoma begins at 3pm Friday in Edmond, Oklahoma. Follow along with live stats of each game here.