Baseball go on a five game winning streak

Junior pitcher Mason Knopp prepares to pitch against Purdue University in "Pack the Pat" game. Gabrielle Ybarzabal/The Lion's Roar 

The Lions baseball team was unbeaten in the five-game stretch last week. In this process, they took out number 19-ranked Mississippi State University, Purdue University and conference opponent Lamar University.

The first game of the week on March 13 against Purdue was highlighted by junior pitcher Mason Knopp’s performance.

“The storyline’s pretty simple,” said Head Coach Matt Riser. “It’s Mason Knopp. He went out there and absolutely dominated the strike zone, and just did a fantastic job of pitching. The lights and the fastball and the way he locates and pitches, just a premier college pitcher. It’s good to see him have success. In all reality, his numbers, today so far, do not reflect his outing. Tonight, he had the wind blowing in and had some guys make some plays behind him. The rest is history.” 

Knopp credited the atmosphere around Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field for his pitching display.

“It felt good,” said Knopp. “Our dugout brought energy. We had a nice crowd tonight. They were loud and cheering us on. We are playing with confidence. We were just out there grinding out at bats. Defense played good, and I made pitches. That’s how you win baseball games.”

Playing in the first out-of-state game in Biloxi, Mississippi, the Lions trailed Mississippi State 5-1 at the bottom of the first inning. However, junior pitcher Corey Gaconi came back from the early setback to leave the opponents scoreless in the remaining eight innings. 

Riser described that the team needs to adjust for the road games. He explained how these games provide a mental test for the team and prepare the team for conference play.

“It’s gonna be a different approach for us now,” said Riser. “We’ve done a majority of this at home. The first time we’re gonna be leaving the state is gonna be to Mississippi and Lamar. We got a six-game road trip. We’ll see what we’re made of. In all honesty, clubs that play well on the road, clubs that play well on Sundays on the weekend, you handle some hostile environments. You handle some different venues in the road trips. It’s more of a mental preparation than it is anything else.” 

The game against Mississippi State also saw the return of junior outfielder Mike Taylor from injury. Riser gave the opportunity to Taylor in the game, and he recorded two runs, two hits and one RBI from five at bats.  

“We tried to rush him back last week with UNO, and it was just too soon,” said Riser. “So, hopefully, the swelling goes back down. Ben’s doing a fantastic job with him of having him right, having him ready. He’s a tough kid who wants to go, but I’ve got to make my judgment on it when it’s time when he can go 100 percent and full speed.” 

The team finished last week’s play with a 3-0 sweep at Lamar. The team responded to the call of Riser in generating early runs and finishing the games in the second and third game of the series.     

“Offensively, we’ve got to do some more things to create runs,” said Riser. “We gotta get some more bunts down. We gotta have some better at bats, some guys in scoring position. At the end of the day, we gotta throw the last punch.”

Knopp explained the key to success in the road games. 

“We just got to bring the energy,” said Knopp. “Just continue to do what we’ve been doing. Just trust the process and go up there and grind out at bats, play good defense and throw strikes.”

The Lions will look to continue their five-game winning streak against University of South Alabama today and Jackson State University tomorrow.