Feb. 1—Missouri Southern's baseball team logged its second-most victories in school history last season and at one point was ranked No. 4 nationally.
It was, no doubt, an historic season for the Lions, who went 45-17, broke 11 team records and earned a spot in the Central Region tournament for the first time since 2019.
That's a high bar for this year's squad, which has been picked to finish second in the MIAA.
Lion pitcher Cale McCallister talked about how to build on last year's success during a recent practice.
"We are going to keep 'the main thing' the main thing," McCallister said. "That's a saying we had last year and we are going to do that again. We are going to stay focused and we are not going to get comfortable."
McCallister, who went 3-1 as a starter for the Lions last season, also talked about this year's team.
"Obviously, we lost a big arm in Cole Woods and a big bat in Matt Miller, but we have some new hitters and a lot more depth on the pitching staff this year," McCallister said. "I like our odds."
Head coach Bryce Darnell also shared his thoughts on this year's squad.
"We do have a good core back, but Matt and Cole were great players for us," Darnell said. "They had great careers for us and we miss those guys but we have a lot back and we are looking forward to getting going."
Among the returners who played a prominent role in last year's success are Ethan Clark, Treghan Parker, Garrett Rice, Henry Kusiak, Nate Mieszkowski, Chayton Beck and Will Doherty.
—Clark was the MIAA Freshman of the Year last season, and Parker — an All-MIAA second teamer — set a new school record for home runs in a game (three) and was second in home runs in a season (18). Rice added 10 home runs for the Lions last year and also was a second-team All-MIAA pick.
—Kusiak hit 13 homers for MSSU last year, en route to becoming a first-teamer All-Region and All-MIAA shortstop who also earned the MIAA Gold Glove.
—Mieszkowski, a second baseman, finished 2023 as a second-team All-American, first-team All-MIAA and was named a National Hitter of the week last year. He finished with 14 home runs, 19 doubles and four triples.
—Beck, who manned the plate at catcher for Southern last season, was an All-MIAA Gold Glove winner who logged 11 home runs for the Lions last year.
—Doherty started 55 games for the Lions last year, hitting .297 on the season with 14 doubles and seven home runs.
Darnell said he expects Cole Gayman and Trent Harris to be part of the rotation.
"We have four games that we open up with, so we are going to need four starters. Cale McAllister may get a start. It all depends on the health of our players and how the first couple of games go."
Darnell also talked about his relievers.
"We have some guys coming back in the bullpen, like Laif (Laif Hultine) and Kyle Moore, so we just have to keep improving and kind of take it a day at a time," Darnell said. "Our guys are mature and they have done well with that. They have been fun to coach so far."
Hultine was 5-2 last year with a team-best 3.26 ERA and Moore was 8-4, with the second most strikeouts on the team (60 in 70 innings.)
Darnell also talked about a couple of his new Division I transfers.
"We have Wyatt Morgan, who is a really good player, and Drew Townsend, who is also a really good player. Those guys are experienced college players that transferred in. Those guys will definitely be helpful," Darnell said.
Morgan, a junior, transferred from Middle Tennessee State; Townsend, also a junior, transferred from Missouri State.
As a sophomore for Middle Tennessee State in 2022, Morgan batted .300 with six doubles, two home runs, and 18 RBIs in 47 games played. As a freshman in 2022, Townsend started seven games for Missouri State.
One new addition that fans may hope lives up to his name is freshman Cooper Walkoff, from St. Louis.
McCallister said he is really only focused on one goal this season — getting to the D-II National Championships.
"I just want to go to Cary, North Carolina, that's all I care about," McCallister said.
The Lions open their season on the road Thursday at the Dugan Invitational in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where they will play four games in four days. They first face-off against Southern Arkansas on Thursday, followed by Henderson State on Friday. On Saturday, they battle Arkansas-Monticello and on Sunday, Ouachita Baptist.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, they travel to Southwestern Oklahoma State University before returning home for a three-game set against Ouachita Baptist. The Lions home opener will be at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, against OBU. Saturday's game against Ouachita will be a 1 p.m., followed by a 1 p.m. start on Sunday..