Hawkins, Bears studs roll over Griffs

Joey Hawkins singled, walked and scored twice as the Missouri State Bears beat the Canisius Golden Griffs 14-1 in the opener of the NCAA Springfield, Mo. regional.

Joey Hawkins singled, walked and scored twice as the Missouri State Bears beat the Canisius Golden Griffs 14-1 in the opener of the NCAA Springfield, Mo. regional.

By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Missouri State Bears have been exactly as advertised. 

With juniors Jon Harris and Tate Matheny leading the team in draft buzz, scouts and spectators who came to see them perform in Saturday afternoon’s game at Hammons Field against Canisius College in the Springfield Regional certainly got their money’s worth. 

After offering up a leadoff home run to Etobicoke, Ont., native Connor Panas, Harris shut the Golden Griffins offence down, allowing just two other hits – both singles – and two walks over eight innings, the right-hander adding eight strikeouts. Matheny went 3-for-4 in MSU’s 14-1 win with a grand slam in an eight-run sixth inning, two doubles, two walks, and a defensive gem in centre field. 

“Those guys are studs,” said Joey Hawkins, the Bears shortstop and a native of Whitby, Ont. “Jon gave up a home run the second pitch of the game to Panas and after that he was just lights out. And Tate, he is just such a big-game player. So it was fun to watch that.”

Heading into regional competition at his home field, Hawkins was excited not only for his team to take centre stage, but he anxiously awaited the arrival of the 15 other Canadians who would join him in Springfield for the weekend. Having played against Panas and Griffs right fielder Brett Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) growing up, the senior infielder felt some nostalgia facing them again on Saturday.

“It was kind of like the old days, playing [Ontario Baseball Association] baseball,” Hawkins said. “Of course Panas had to poke one out on us early, but it was fun to have some other Canadians out there, and the crowd was amazing. And [Panas] could always hit and his numbers show it.” 

The home run for Canisius College’s utility player and lead-off man was his 11th of the year. Entering regional competition, Panas was hitting .379/.476/.633 with 67 RBIs in 62 games. When he launched the 0-1 changeup from Harris over the right field fence and onto the roof of the indoor practice facility at the ballpark to start the game, he gave the Griffs some early momentum. 

“At the time – and I think back to two years ago when we were at the [North Carolina] regional – clearly there were some jitters for a while until the guys got going,” Canisius head coach Mike McRae (Niagara Falls, Ont.) said. “And I think what that did was it helped guys get into the game in a real hurry and feel like they had a chance to compete.” 

It didn’t take long for momentum to shift to the Bears, who knocked Griffins starter Devon Stewart (Maple Ridge, BC) out of the game after 4 2/3 innings – stranding nine baserunners through the first four frames – and then scored 10 runs off of three Canisius relievers. 

“We got through the lineup once and then see what the pitcher’s got and then we sort of just keep attacking after that,” Hawkins said. “Their pitcher competed well, he got out of some clutch spots and he threw some good pitches at timely spots. When we got to the bullpen we just went to work and we were relentless.” 

The offensive outburst from the Bears was impressive, but equally so was the performance from Harris. The Florissant, Mo., native shut down a hot-hitting Canisius team and made it look easy. 

“It’s pretty clear why he’s a pretty dominant guy and he certainly has been all year long,” McRae said. “I don’t think we took advantage of what we should have done at the plate in terms of our personal approach – that was pretty evident from the get-go. 

“We tried to get them on track that way and whether it’s nerves or whether it was the game getting away, I don’t have that answer. I know that internally we were pretty disappointed at the face that we didn’t get on track with the offensive approach that we needed.” 

If the Golden Griffins were dealing with some nerves in their first matchup at the Springfield Regional, they weren’t the only ones. MSU hosted its third-largest crowd ever at Hammons Field, bringing 6,756 fans to a ballpark that usually sees a fraction of that number. 

“We can get a good crowd,” said Hawkins, who singled, walked and scored twice. “On the weekends maybe 1,500, and then if we have a Big-12 school here or an SEC school here, we might get three or four thousand, but that was a lot different. There was a lot of maroon and white in the crowd today, so it was fun … Honestly I was a little nervous the first couple of innings there, but after that we kind of settled in and we just fed off it. 

“The crowd was absolutely unbelievable. To see where this program has come from when I got here as a freshman and then to hear when they announced Coach [Keith] Guttin’s name and the place went nuts, I almost cried. It was crazy.” 

This season for the Bears has been somewhat of a whirlwind for Hawkins, who is just hoping his team will keep it going down the stretch. 

“Coming into the year we had high expectations, and obviously we met them,” he said. “But when you start cracking the Top 25 and going on crazy-long win streaks and our Saturday [starter Matt Hall] is leading the nation in strikeouts and our Friday guy [Harris] is an eventual first-rounder and then now we’re hosting a regional and we’ve got a national seed, it’s just been crazy honestly.” 

On his second run on the road to Omaha, after appearing in the NCAA Division-I championship in his freshman year, Hawkins believes that this year’s Bears squad has the ability to take it further, and he is excited to see what they can do. 

“My freshman year we got a chance to go to the Miami Regional and our pitching staff led the country in ERA and strikeouts,” Hawkins said. “We were pretty elite that year and had a first-rounder, but from that year until now we’ve grown a lot offensively and we’re a veteran group, so the years we’ve grown up together have made a difference. We went through some struggles last year but that’s definitely helped us turn it around this year.”  

Also in Springfield for the weekend are Iowa’s Austin Guzzo (Brooklin, Ont.) and Oregon’s Phil Craig-St. Louis (Gatineau, Que.), who join Canisius College seniors Mike Krische (Langley, BC), Tyler Vavra {Calgary, Alta.), Panas and Stewart, juniors Iannick Remillard (Valleyfield, Que.) and Siddall,, sophomores Josh Shepley (Windsor, Ont.), Jake Lumley (Windsor, Ont.) and Zachary Sloan (Brampton, Ont.), and freshmen Blake Weston (Oakville, Ont.), Cyrus Senior (Montreal, Que.), Nick Capitano (Bolton, Ont.) and J.P. Stevenson (New Glasglow, PEI). 

The Griffs were eliminated after a 14-1 loss to the Bears and a 12-6 loss to the Ducks on Saturday. MSU faced the Hawkeyes in their second matchup on Saturday night. The tournament is double-elimination format and only one team will advance to super regionals. 

Forth Worth, Texas, hosts the second-most Canadian regional, with Jeremie Fagnan (Calgary, Alta.) playing for the host Texas Christian University, and visiting Stony Brook bringing Johnny Caputo (Toronto, Ont.), Toby Handley (Whitby, Ont.) and Cole Peragine (Belle Ewart, Ont.). 

Champaign, Ill., will have Kelly Norris-Jones (Victoria, BC) representing host Illinois and Christian Botter (Toronto, Ont.) playing for the Ohio Bobcats. 

The regionals in Fullerton, Louisville, Houston, Coral Gables, Stillwater and Lake Elsinore each have one Canuck looking to continue on the road to Omaha with Arizona State’s Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.), Morehead State’s Chris Robinson (Uxbridge, Ont.), Houston’s Robert Grilli (Toronto, Ont.), Florida International’s Mitch Robinson (Surrey, BC), Oral Roberts’ Emmanuel Forcier (St. Hyacinthe, Que.), and Virginia’s Daniel Pinero (Toronto, Ont.), respectively.