A stretch of losing during the start of the Midwest-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association, looked to potentially doom the Northeastern State baseball program.
Starting the MIAA season with a 4-9 record, it looked like the RiverHawks might end up at the bottom of the barrel. But the Riverhawks were able to finish the season 11-9 putting themselves in the MIAA Tournament.
“I was very pleased with our ability to execute in clutch situations,” said NSU head coach James Cullinane. “Ty Van Meter and Gage Fuller stand out as guys who love the big moment and were big contributors in our late-season run. Our offense was great for most of the year, but in the end, our defense was a game-changer. Next year, we will have to improve on our walk and hit-by-pitch numbers on the pitching side.”
Once the playoffs came the RiverHawks shocked some people after coming back in game two against Washburn and beating No. 2 Missouri Southern in the second round.
Then an extra-inning loss to No. 1 Central Missouri seemed to take the air out of the tires for NSU.
When they faced MSU again, it was bad news as the Lions thumped NSU 12-1 to end their season.
Despite the elimination, there was a bright spot from NSU. Senior starting pitcher Lee Callison was lights out against the Lions in game one. Callison struck out eight batters over seven innings, allowing two earned runs, while throwing four no-hit innings.
“I saw the same thing I saw from him all year,” said Cullinane. “His competitive fire all year was on another level. When you combine that with an elite fastball up to 92 with good carry through the zone, you normally get positive results. Lee went out on top which is deserved for one of the best arms to ever come through NSU.”
Callison finished the year with a 4.21 earned run average, with 89 walks, 40 walks, and a 6-4 record were all good to lead the RiverHawks’ pitching staff.
Along with Callison, Seth Stacey was the other top starter for the RiverHawks. In his first year at NSU, the Tahlequah native ranked second in pitching statistics across the board.
“They trusted in pitching coach, Luke Bay’s philosophy from Day 1 and have the ability to execute multiple pitches at any time,” said Cullinane. “What sets them apart aside from work ethic is how smart they are on the mound.”
NSU’s top hitters, Coby Tweten, Bradyen Rodden, and C.D. White were three of the most consistent RiverHawks throughout the season. Tweten paced NSU in batting average (.356), on-base percentage (.454), and slugging percentage (.659) while ranking second with nine home runs.
Rodden and White led the RiverHawks with 10 home runs a piece. Rodden’s .355 batting average ranked just outside of Tweten’s team-leading mark. White similarly was just off the top mark with a .344 batting average.
“Tweten, Rodden, and White are all elite workers in every aspect,” said Cullinane. “Great students in the classroom, leaders in the locker room, workers in the weight room. They are strong with very simple swings, which is a recipe for success.”
With the offseason firmly in front of the RiverHawks, Cullinane shifts his attention to adding to next year’s team. Cullinane stated NSU’s roster was nearly set, but they were looking to add in a few spots still.
Cullinane likes to focus to junior college players to build his roster.
“I believe in junior college and the development process there is so much more than the physical side,” said Cullinane. “Our team is made up primarily of junior college transfers and those types of players are relentless and love playing in May. They find comfort in the chaos of a tournament and it showed.”
After finishing with a 25-28 record in his first year as head coach, Cullinane appears ready to continue to put his mark on the program.
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