Feb. 11, 2009

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Bears Again on Prowl

By Andrew Finley



Missouri State has a proud baseball tradition.


The Bears were in the NCAA tournament six times between 1995 and 2003, culminating in the school's first College World Series appearance in 2003. In the years since, however, times have been tough in Springfield, Mo., with things reaching a low point in 2007 when the Bears lost a record 34 games and finished eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference, their worst finish ever.


The tide turned again in 2008. The Bears reached 40 wins for the first time since 2003 and finished second in the MVC, narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament.


Star first baseman Ben Carlson (left) credits two victories the first weekend of the season for the turnaround. In their season opener, the Bears came from behind to beat a quality Dallas Baptist team. Carlson homered twice, getting a jumpstart on a season that would see the big left-hander go deep 17 times.


The next day, the Bears came from behind to knock off UT Arlington. Carlson homered again and right-hander Tim Clubb (right) won his first game of the season. Clubb went on to win his first 11 games, a school record. He finished the season 11-0 with a 2.52 ERA in 103.2 innings.


The Bears seem poised to continue their growth this season. Eight of nine MVC coaches picked Missouri State to win the conference. Carlson and Clubb, both junior captains, will lead the way.


Carlson says his arm is completely after having Tommy John surgery during the offseason. A year ago, he was limited to DH duty; this year he will play first base and the outfield.


Carlson (right), who hit .379 with 67 RBI, likely will hit fourth in the lineup behind Braden Drake, who also was an all-conference player last year.


“He’s not just brute strength, he’s a good hitter with good patience,” Bears coach Keith Guttin said.


In addition to earning All-American honors for his play, Carlson was an academic All-American as a result of his 3.9 GPA. He was the first player in school history to be honored as both an athletic and academic All-American.


As for Clubb, Guttin describes him as, “Everything you want in a college pitcher.”


The right-hander typically throws in the low 90s and is always around the strike zone, seldom beating himself. He also can throw his other three pitches for strikes. Clubb said he likes to force hitters to prove they can handle his fastball but will not hesitate to attack holes in hitters' swings.


Over the summer, Clubb and fellow starter Buddy Baumann played for Brewster in the Cape Cod League. Clubb would have posted the best ERA in the league with a 1.41 ERA but was three innings short of qualifying for the title. Baumann also performed well, posting a 2.35 ERA, eighth best in the league.


“Me and Buddy are better in terms of our mental toughness,” Clubb said of his experience in the Cape.


Clubb (left) was drafted in the 42nd round of the draft by Tampa Bay but chose to return to school.

“I want to continue improving in the mental aspect of the game, as well as improve the consistency of my changeup so that it is a pitch I have every game,” he said.


“What I like about these guys is they don't care about numbers,” Guttin said.


Both Clubb and Carlson were attracted to Missouri State because of its history. Clubb said he was attracted to the school because it was a “program that has always been on the map but not gotten the respect it deserved.”


“We need to take this team back to where they were,” echoed Carlson.


(photos courtesy of Missouri State Photographic Services)