Originally published 5:20 AM, Mar. 27, 2012 on News-Leader.com
As a rookie playing arguably the most demanding position on the field, Missouri State shortstop Eric Cheray had a rough introduction to college baseball.
Five errors in his first 11 games had Cheray down, but not out.
“The beginning was a struggle, but I was kind of expecting it,” Cheray said. “You just have to constantly make adjustments and try to get better every day.
“I think that I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that.”
With only one error in the Bears’ last nine games, the freshman has settled in nicely — and in time for his first meeting with his “hometown” team.
Kansas, which is about 26 miles from Cheray’s hometown of Topeka, visits Hammons Field tonight. MSU, ranked 30th in Monday’s USA TODAY coaches poll, will be aiming for its eighth straight victory.
Right-hander Cody Schumacher (2-0) is scheduled to start for the Bears with a rested bullpen behind him.
Cheray also looks to continue his momentum from a weekend sweep of Creighton in which he had a single, double and triple while scoring two runs and driving in a pair. He is 13-for-42 (.310) over his last 14 starts, to raise his average from .125 to .242.
“He had a competitive weekend offensively and handled the bat pretty good,” Bears coach Keith Guttin said, noting that it’s important to have a No. 9 hitter capable of putting the bat on the ball.
Cheray, who got his shot at shortstop when senior Travis McComack was declared academically ineligible, shares the team lead with five sacrifice bunts.
“Mainly the pitching has been the biggest adjustment,” Cheray said. “You don’t see pitching like this on the summer circuit or on your high school circuit.
“The leaders on the team have been great in helping me, guys like (Brett) Marshall, (Luke) Voit and (Kevin) Medrano. They’re real influential through the game and throughout practice in getting everybody together.”
Guttin is most pleased with Cheray’s defense, which he called “steady” after the rough start.
“He’s a pretty good-sized shortstop (6-foot-3) and has good range,” Guttin said.
Especially for a shortstop who’s also listed as catcher, something Guttin admits “you don’t see very often.”
Cheray played shortstop at Seaman High (the same school of former MSU slugger Ben Carlson) and spent last summer catching for the Kansas-based Midwest Bruins (coached by former Kansas City Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane).
“He’s kind of like our version of Buster Posey,” center fielder Spiker Helms said, referencing the former LSU All-American who played both positions in college.
Guttin said playing both positions takes good hands and a quick release. Cheray said he considers himself a shortstop, for now, but would gladly catch if needed.
“I’m pretty comfortable with either,” Cheray said. “Whichever one’s open is fine with me.”
Junior right-hander Pierce Johnson was named Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the week and Collegiate Baseball national pitcher of the week after a complete-game, five-hit shutout of Creighton in which he struck out 16.
His MSU teammate, Nick Petree, won the award last week.
The Bears’ staff was named InsidePitching.com national staff of the week. While going 4-0, MSU allowed only four runs (two earned) in 36 innings with 7 walks and 44 strikeouts.