Stengren, Dardas stepping up, performing steadily in absence of Lockwood-Powell

Fox River Grove, Ill. freshman Drew Stengren gets the barrel on the ball against Ball State, April 11.

Drew Stengren pumped his fist and looked to the dugout, firing up his teammates. 

As a true freshman, Stengren hasn't been around long. But it's clear he's earning the respect of his teammates, as shown with their reaction to his RBI single that put the Chippewas on the board against Notre Dame. Though CMU lost to the Fighting Irish, it got another solid performance from a young catcher. 

Playing without Griffin Lockwood-Powell, who is out with a thumb injury, CMU and coach Jordan Bischel are forced to turn to the duo of Stengren and redshirt freshman Nick Dardas. To Bischel, the two have stepped up and are displaying talent that will help the program for years to come. 

"There's a reason we've won a lot of games since Griff got hurt," Bischel said April 13. "If you don't have good catching, you're not gonna win a lot of games. (Stengren and Dardas) have done a great job."

Batting average doesn't tell the story with the two youngsters. Following the loss to Notre Dame, Stengren was hitting just .143 with two RBI while Dardas sat at .167 with eight RBI. However, they've shown savviness and skill behind the plate that has pushed their pitching staff. 

The duo teamed to catch junior right-hander Jordan Patty's complete game shutout against Bowling Green April 10, with Dardas starting and catching the first seven innings while Stengren handled the final two. Patty's performance earned him Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Week honors. 

Dardas does have the advantage of a limited amount of experience from last year, as he played in seven games and hit .222 in nine at-bats in 2020 before the season was shut down due to the coronavirus. However, he's nearly quadrupled his plate appearance total in what time he's gotten this year. 

The young catchers have been tested often by base stealers, and both have thrown out three of 11 attempted base stealers. It's likely that the challengers will increase, but early indications are that the two are ready for the challenge. 

Lockwood-Powell is not replicable -- he's one of the best catchers in the country. In the eight games he's played this year, Lockwood-Powell has hit .320 with one home run and six RBI. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota native is a two-time first team All-MAC and one time ABCA/Rawlings first team all-region selection. 

"We've played a long time without Griff," Bischel said. "He's legitimately one of the very best catchers in the country. You're just not going to replace that." 

Bischel hopes to have Lockwood-Powell back "in a couple of weeks." 

Filling those shoes isn't easy. The youth of Stengren and Dardas rears its head every once in a while. But the potential is beginning to show, and the duo is proving that they're capable of contributing for years to come. 

"They compete," Bischel said. "They work really hard for their pitching staff. (We've) started to see, the past couple of games, that they've both started to pick up base hits...Those guys have done a great job with the opportunities they've had."