With the weather as it is up north, the University of Mary baseball team headed east and south to start the Northern Sun season.
It required an 855-mile bus trip but the Marauders (3-8) will meet up with Sioux Falls (2-11) in Quincy, Ill., to kick off the NSIC schedule with one game Sunday and a doubleheader Monday.
"We're going to get to play on a nice field. The only downside is we'll have to be on the bus for 12 hours, but we're happy we get to play," U-Mary head coach Mark Moriarty said. "There was a lot of doom and gloom with the weather, but if things keep drying out it should OK. Our guys want to play and we'll get creative if we need to."
The Marauders' last game was March 9 in Florida. The season-opening trip was a mixed bag results-wise, but Moriarty found plenty of positives.
"A lot of it is they're learning a different approach. They have a little bit more freedom then they're used to," Moriarty said. "We don't want to control the game as coaches. We want our players to read situations, play with their instincts. It got better as we went (in Florida) on that side of things."
Darius Barlas (.324 average, 6 RBIs) and Jesus Payan (.314, 3 RBI) led the way offensively. Payan, Daulton Sauce, Chris Scott and Jaxon Ford have started all 11 games so far. Barlas started all but one.
"I thought we swung it pretty well. The numbers are a little skewed because of the approach we're taking offensively with increased bat speed and the emphasis on extra-base hits, but at some point we also have to be able to adjust to what the pitcher is doing to you," Moriarty said. "A couple of games we adjusted too late. It takes time. We'll get there."
On the mound, Parker McRae flashed ace potential. In 13 2/3 innings, the right-hander from Nipawin, Saskatchewan allowed just one earned run and struck out 15.
"His first outing was really good. He walked too many guys in the second one, which is uncharacteristic for him, but he got away with it because his velocity was up," Moriarty said.
Jonathan Draheim (2.53 ERA, 10 1/3 IP) and Travis Holte (1.53 ERA, 5 1/3 IP) turned in strong performances. Ian Fisher (4), Andrew Brooks (3) and Quentin Evers (3) proved durable with 10 appearances combined.
The Marauders' pitching and run-differential numbers are skewed dramatically by the 31-run onslaught Metropolitan State hung on them at altitude in Denver.
"In Florida, our ERA was right around 3.4. We had a lot of learning moments. Our guys just need to believe in themselves," Moriarty said. "Part of it is just get the nerves out and go pitch. The talent is there. We just need to have confidence to go out there and get outs."
Getting off to a good start in the league would help.
The Marauders own a 5-4 win over Sioux Falls March 9 in Florida.
"The talent is fine. That's not going to be prohibitive for us. It's the mental part of learning how to win, that's the toughest thing," Moriarty said. "There were games where we'd get a lead, then we'd get a little excited and have a couple walks, an error here or there, make a mistake running the bases, and then it's the here-we-go-again type of thing.
"We started doing more mental imagery as we went and I think that helped. Imagine getting out of tough situations, having the mindset of being able to overcome mistakes and play through them. Those things take time, but I think we're going in the right direction."