The University of Central Missouri has had one of the nation's elite baseball teams for decades, and it appears the reason is simple - they don't take anything for granted, even after all their successes.
It didn't take long for Brad Wilson to learn that lesson, as it came soon after he stepped foot on the campus after wrapping up his career as a Helias Crusader.
"There's big expectations for the school," he said. "During the fall they kind of get on you about it - "You're not as good as you think you are.' You've got to have it in your mind that everybody's coming out to beat you. We're circled on their schedule.
"There's always an X on our back. Everybody brings their best when we play them."
Now in his senior season, Wilson has emerged as a team leader for the Mules. Coming into Saturday afternoon's doubleheader in Jefferson City at Lincoln University, Wilson was third among the regulars in batting at .355; tops in home runs with four, the only player with more than one; second in RBI with 22; and had team highs in doubles (8), total bases (55) and slugging percentage (.591).
Wilson has played in every game for the Mules during the past two seasons, starting all but one, and has appeared in 122 of the team's 134 games during the past three years. He's a three-time academic all-conference performer and was an honorable-mention outfield pick last year for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
"I'm seeing the ball well," the center fielder said of his offensive approach this year. "A couple times I've been overanxious, but that happens with hitting. You've just got to relax up there and see the ball and hit it where they're not."
He did that to perfection in the series' opening game Friday, following up a single and a double to left field early in the game with a single up the middle as part of a 3-for-5 day.
"It's good to be back, a little quick trip home," he said after that game.
While this year's Central Missouri team doesn't have quite the offensive firepower as some of the Mules squads to come through town, they're still averaging six runs per game and hitting .296 as a team.
"It's been drilled into us that we need to stay flat," Wilson said. "Balls in the air are going to get caught nine times out of 10. Hitting the ball through the infield will work every time and then one guy is going to put one in the gap and we'll score a few runs."
The Mules were uncharacteristically slow out of the gate this year, dropping four of their first six games. But they've come on to go 19-5 since, and are once again atop the MIAA standings.
"We've really come together as a team as the season has gone along," Wilson said. "... We were a little overanxious at the beginning of the year, I think. It's just staring to come together, to gel together as a team."