UND faces tough test from BisonThree of the UND baseball team’s top four hitters are freshmen, and the Sioux roster has a total of 17 newcomers. At North Dakota State, the Bison bring back seven starters in the field and six pitchers that threw 20 or more innings last season.
By: By Tom Miller, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Three of the UND baseball team’s top four hitters are freshmen, and the Sioux roster has a total of 17 newcomers.
At North Dakota State, the Bison bring back seven starters in the field and six pitchers that threw 20 or more innings last season.
That experience contrast will be on display this weekend as the teams begin a four-game series at 2 p.m. today at Kraft Field.
Today’s game will be nine innings. On Saturday in Fargo, the first game will be nine innings while the second is set for seven. The teams return to Grand Forks on Sunday for a nine-inning game at 1 p.m.
The series originally was scheduled to be played at the Metrodome, but the unseasonably warm weather has allowed the games to be played at home sites.
“Youth is the No. 1 thing that stands out about us,” UND coach Jeff Dodson said. “The other thing that has stood out is our talent. We have some guys who are pretty good; they just haven’t put it all together yet. Some guys are still growing into their bodies and learning about new situations as you go up a level in baseball.”
The Sioux are 2-15 after a difficult schedule to open the year, with games coming at Wichita State, Kansas, Saint Louis, Missouri and Creighton.
UND is hoping that record is misleading as the Sioux have picked up wins over Kansas and Creighton — the type of marquee wins that have avoided the Sioux since their move to Division I.
Dodson attributes the first-time glimpse of success against larger programs to pitching depth and the ability of starters to work deeper into games.
“We have guys at the end of games now who can shut people down,” Dodson said. “We’ve also got a little more velocity on the mound.”
UND’s Kyle Bolander, one of six seniors on the roster, said the wins over Kansas and Creighton have provided a confidence boost.
“We didn’t really know how the season would pan out with so many young guys,” said Bolander, who splits time at the corner infield positions and designated hitter. “As the season has progressed, the guys are jelling a lot. We got a couple of key wins during our spring break trip and now we want to take that momentum and move forward.”
Bolander, a fifth-year senior, has battled injuries throughout his career. He came into the season a career .248 hitter.
The Hermantown, Minn., native has increased his average to .306 this season. It’s also at a point in the year when UND’s averages are commonly at their lowest due to the difficult schedule.
Bolander has a team-best .500 slugging percentage, with a team-high two home runs.
“He’s a very studious hitter,” Dodson said. “He watches a lot of video. He’s gotten more comfortable as he’s gotten older. As a fifth-year senior, he’s seen and done a lot of things that have led him to become a better hitter.”
Bolander is the only non-freshman at the top of UND’s hitting statistics. Freshman shortstop Tyler Follis, of Bemidji, is hitting .333, while freshman pitcher-first baseman Jeff Campbell is batting .250 and freshman outfielder Mark Bearmon is hitting .233.
The freshmen were instrumental in UND’s four-run ninth inning that allowed the Sioux to beat Kansas.
Campbell, Follis, Padraic Getchell and Bearmon all had hits in the ninth off Jayhawk reliever Tanner Poppe, who was a 37th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.
The Sioux, though, still know they have an up-hill battle against the Bison, who boast an impressive 14-5 record.
“We’ve got to play well,” Dodson said.
Miller is a sports writer at the Grand Forks Herald