Schuckman: Relaxed play helps Hawks change outlook, open up world of possibilities


Quincy University pitcher Seth West reacts to getting the final out in the final game of last weekend's series against Illinois-Springield. The Hawks have won 11 of their 13 games heading into the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — The game and everything about it felt tedious.

None of the Quincy University baseball players will deny that.

“When you’re getting your butt kicked, it is a chore,” first baseman Austin Simpson said.

A five-run loss in the series finale against the University of Indianapolis on April 14 left the Hawks eight games below .500 and in danger of missing the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament for the first time since 2010.

“After getting our stuff pushed in by UIndy, we knew we had to wake up just to make the tournament, let alone go on a postseason run,” said shortstop Joe Huffman, who referenced losing three of four games to the Greyhounds on the road to drop to ninth in the GLVC standings at the time. “We had to play better.”

By doing so, the Hawks have opened up a world of possibilities.

Quincy has gone 11-2 over the last three weeks, sweeping Illinois-Springfield in a four-game series last weekend to jump to the No. 4 seed for the GLVC Tournament and enter the Midwest Regional conversation. Better yet, baseball feels like a game again.

“It doesn’t feel like a chore,” Huffman said. “It feels like everyone is coming out here and having fun.”

Winning helps, but so does relaxing.

The Hawks (25-25) opened the season ranked No. 13 nationally and promptly lost seven consecutive games on a trip through Georgia. It took a long time to right the ship because of so many near misses against some of the top teams in the region.

Quincy lost three of four games to Maryville, surrendering the lead in the final three innings of all three losses. Against Indianapolis, the Hawks lost in extra innings, scoring three times in the top of the 10th only to allow four runs in the bottom of the frame. The Greyhounds and the Saints are the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the GLVC Tournament and sit second and third in the latest Midwest Region rankings.

“We went through a lot of downs throughout the whole season,” said Simpson, who leads the Hawks with a .425 batting average and 15 doubles to go with 15 home runs heading into the GLVC Tournament opener at 9 a.m. Wednesday’s against Missouri-St. Louis. “Through that, we learned tightening up and yelling and getting after each other wasn’t really the key.

“The key was to keep playing baseball, calm each other down, move on and understand you might give up a few runs but you can still win a ballgame.”

With that realization has come a six-game win streak to close the regular season and some newfound swagger.

“I don’t think a lot of teams want to face us right now,” Simpson said.

That may be the case beyond this weekend. Quincy wasn’t one of the nine teams listed in the Midwest Region rankings last week, but Illinois-Springfield was eighth and was swept by the Hawks. The Prairie Stars also didn’t qualify for the GLVC Tournament, ending their run.

Quincy has a better strength of schedule, according to one version of analytics, than every other team in the region. In fact, of the 249 NCAA Division II baseball teams, the Hawks’ schedule is 74th. Drury and Findlay are 92nd and 97th, respectively, while the top four teams in the region rank 126th or lower.

The Hawks also have a late-season surge to help them make a case for an NCAA Tournament bid. Indianapolis and Quincy are both 11-2 over the last 13 games — the best of any team in the Midwest — while sixth-ranked Drury is 3-10 and ninth-ranked Wayne State is 6-7. Findlay, which is seventh, has gone 9-4.

All of the speculation and worry can be put to rest if the Hawks win the GLVC Tournament and earn the league’s automatic NCAA bid. If that doesn’t happen, they need to stay alive deep enough into the tournament to make people take note.

“We have a lot of guys with postseason experience, and we’re playing well at the right time,” QU coach Matt Schissel said. “There have been a lot of ups and downs this year, but lately we’ve hit it well and created some good vibes.”

It’s given the Hawks the confidence to be title contenders.

“Keep the momentum going and see what happens,” Simpson said.

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