BAB: 2010 Season Preview

Mar 4th, 2010 @ 1:21 pm | Author: Viking Sports Admin
The 2010 Baseball season is just around the corner and the Vikings are ready to face the tough challenge of climbing the standings in the DAC. The 2010 season was scheduled to begin with two double headers against Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, NE on March 6th and 7th. Weather has forced a change and the opener will now be played in the HHH Metro Dome on Monday March 8th vs. Minot State University at 9:45 PM. The Vikings will then make their spring trip beginning against Dana College in Blair, NE on March 12th and 13th with double headers on both days. Then the Vikes are on to Brownsville Texas for eight games against Fisher College, Concordia NE, and the University of Texas Brownsville. The preseason road schedule will be completed with four games against DAC foes in Rapid City, SD on March 27th and 28th at the preseason DAC tournament. The home opener is optimistically slated against the University of Minnesota Crookston on March 30th.

The Vikings are picked sixth in the preseason DAC coaches' poll following a 2009 season in which they posted a 4-14 record and had their season cancelled on April 13th due to flooding in Valley City. In his third season at the helm Head Coach Casey Olney believes he will see improvement over last seasons' squad. 'This team has been a complete pleasure to be around and coach. The core of this group is essentially the same that we had last season and they have been growing and learning together since the fall of 2008. I am really excited to be able to watch them get the opportunity to go out and compete this year.' The 2010 Vikings are returning six pitchers who made starts from last year as well as seven key position players which should make them to be a very tough team in 2010. The Vikings were 1-7 in games decided by two runs or less in 2009, a number Olney thinks will improve in 2010. 'We just need everyone to get a little bit better than they were last season,' Olney said. 'We were very close so many times against some really tough teams; it's just a matter of getting over the hump and finishing games when we have that opportunity.'

Starting Pitching

Last season the Vikings pitching staff was lead by sophomore right hander Taylor Nelson (Ramsey, MN), who was off to a remarkable start. Nelson had made four starts and ranked first in the conference in hits allowed and opponent batting average, second in earned run average, and sixth in strikeouts. Opponents hit just .178 against Nelson which ranked 5th in the nation. 'Taylor was very good in each of his outings last season,' Olney said. 'Taylor is an intense competitor and really battles when we give him the ball. The exciting thing about him is that he is still learning how to pitch, he was primarily an outfielder when he came here and has just started to grow into being a starting pitcher.'

Dan Maurer (Klamath Falls, OR), Roberto Rodriguez (Chandler, AZ), and Shane Shoeneberg (Jamestown, ND) will round out the starting rotation for the Vikings in 2010. All three are left handed which gives the Vikings staff a unique look.

Maurer could be poised for a breakout season in 2010. 'Dan worked hard this summer and it has shown through the fall and spring thus far'' Olney said. 'He has improved on some of his weaknesses and is throwing with a purpose in his bull pen sessions; I think he is ready to be a solid starter in our league.'

Rodriguez is another workhorse for the Vikings, trailing only Nelson in innings logged last season. 'We know we are going to get a solid outing with Roberto on the bump,' Olney Said. 'He is going to challenge guys to beat him and let his defense play behind him. Roberto has a lot of experience and it shows when he takes the ball.'

Shoeneberg made the most of his opportunities when given the ball last season, shutting out Fisher College in a 12-0 Vikings win and posting an overall ERA of 0.00 in 8.1 innings. 'Shane is a guy that just gets the job done,' Olney said. 'He just really knows how to pitch, and does a great job of keeping batters off balance. He has earned the opportunity to be in the starting rotation.'

Freshman Ryan Shaw (Cardale, MB) has shown promise and can expect to get some starts throughout the season. 'Ryan has been a very pleasant surprise with how quickly he has progressed it a lot of areas,' Olney said. 'He has been a fast learner and I have a feeling he could be an impact type of arm by the end of the year. I know he feels that he has something to prove to people and it shows in the way he works.' Senior Cory Arnason (Airdrie, AB) will also be looked to as a spot starter this year. 'Cory is a guy who will do anything that we ask of him,' Olney said. 'He has bounced back and forth between pitching and playing a position his whole career but he is just ready to contribute any way he can. He has worked so hard getting great shape and he will find a way to help our team this season.'

'The exciting thing about the starting group that we have this year is that, with the exception of Shaw, they all have a ton of experience throwing at the college level,' Olney said. 'If we can mix that experience with the talent that the group has, I think they can do some very good things.'

Bull Pen

The 2009 bullpen was a weak spot for the Vikings and has been bolstered during the offseason through the addition of new arms and restructuring of the pitching staff. The transformation of one time starter and red shirt (RS) freshman Derek Zitzow (Valley City, ND) into the team's closer is an important move for the Vikings. Valley City native Zitzow took his lumps during 2009, his first season at the college level, but his quality arm and poise make him primed for a solid season as the teams closer. 'Derek has really good stuff,' Olney said. 'I think last year was a learning experience for him, figuring out how to pitch to college hitters. Derek has a lot of things going for him on the mound and I am confident he will be very good for us this year.'

(RS)Freshmen Preston Jensen (Valley City, ND), Zach Michaelson (Enderlin, ND), and freshman Colin Waldner (Altona, MB) join senior Logan Midthun (Enderlin, ND) as the group currently slated as the team's setup men. It will be their responsibility to hold the opposition down to get to Zitzow. Jensen, another Valley City native, has made some big gains in terms of velocity and stuff, and is looking primed to have a productive season on mound. Michaelson, who is making the transition to pitching only, is beginning to see the benefits of a singular focus and has all the makings to be a solid college pitcher. Waldner and Midthun have shown potential and will be asked to go out and prove it this season on the mound. 'Our short guys in the pen provide us with a lot of options in close games,' Olney said. 'We have really good balance with two right hander's and two left hander's and different pitching styles that can match up against a variety of batters.'

The rest of the bullpen is comprised of senior Greg Miller (Sherwood, ND), junior transfer Jon Daluge (St. Cloud, MN), (RS) freshman Alex Beach (Fairmount, ND), (RS) sophomore Josh Evans (Hayfield, MN), (RS) sophomore Cliff Vazquez (Tucson, AZ) , (RS) freshman DJ Allard (Minot, ND), (RS) freshman Joe Duttenhefer (Galchutt, ND), freshman Zach Noriega (Fargo, ND), freshman Burke Tagney (Kimball, MN), Mike Danielson (New London, MN) and freshman Aaron Meyer (Hillsboro, ND).

Last season's pitching staff walked three more batters than they struck out which is not a recipe for success. 'It's going to come down to our guys throwing strikes and competing on the mound,' Olney said. 'We need to do a better job of throwing strikes more consistently than we did last year, that's the number one focus of our staff right now. If our guys can do that we can have a very successful group.'

Infield

The Viking infield brings back three starters from last season and is thought of by Olney as one of the team's strengths. 'The key for our infield will be keeping the guys healthy and finding the right mix to maximize our offense and defense,' Olney said. 'We made some outstanding plays in the infield last season but lost focus at times and it cost us when we did.'

The veteran infield will be anchored by Arnason at first base. Also vying for time at first will be freshman Brenden Shearer, with pitchers Roberto Rodriguez and Preston Jensen available if needed. 'Cory is very solid defensively and is comfortable taking control in the infield,' Olney said. 'We ask our first baseman to make a lot of the calls with coverage's and picks and Cory is a veteran guy who we trust as coaches to run the show out there.'

Josh Standing Elk (Bismarck, ND) will start as the everyday third baseman. 'Josh pitched and played 3rd base for us last season and it held him back a little bit in both areas,' Olney said. 'This year he is focusing strictly on playing in the field and I believe it will benefit him and our team.' (RS) sophomore Tanner Bombenger (Fargo, ND) and freshman Brenden Shearer (Winnipeg, MB) are also options at 3rd base.

The middle infield will consist of some combination of Bombenger, Zitzow, Waldner, and transfer Dustin Gregory (West Fargo, ND). Bombenger has played 2nd and SS for the Vikings in his first two seasons and has shown he can be successful at both spots. 'Tanner is an outstanding athlete and can do a lot of things on the baseball field,' Olney said. 'I expect him to have a really good year and am counting on him to be successful wherever we put him.' Zitzow was primarily a pitcher in his first season but will see some action at second base this year. 'Derek was very impressive with the bat this fall and has so many tools that we are going to maximize his abilities by asking him to do a few different things for us,' Olney said. 'I think at second we can save his arm a little bit for his closing responsibilities as well.' Gregory played SS for Bismarck State College last season and is working at both middle infield spots this spring. 'Dusty is very solid in the infield and has the arm to play either SS or 2nd,' Olney said. 'I had an opportunity to watch him play a lot at the end of his season last year and again in the summer and he really impressed me with his consistency.' Rounding out the infield is freshman Colin Waldner. Waldner, whose primary role will be in the bullpen, has also shown excellent defensive competence and can be used in defensive situations.

Catcher

Justin Connell (Bismarck, ND) is returning as the Viking starting catcher and one of the team's leading hitters. 'Justin is the complete package, he is the leader of the pitching staff, he is one of the top offensive threats in the lineup, and has a very strong arm defensively,' Olney said.
Vying to back up at the catcher position are two freshman; Dylan Carlson and Josh Lawrence. The spot will ultimately go to the player that shows the most capability to handle a pitching staff and get the job done defensively.

Outfield

The Vikings return their entire outfield from the 2009 season. At the heart of that group is centerfielder and team captain Josh Evans (Hayfield, MN). After a slow start during the first ten games of the 2009 season Evans turned it around during the last 8 games finishing with a .281 average, 9 RBI, and eight steals in eight attempts. This season Evans is looking to start hot and be the offensive leader the team expects him to be. His defensive game has been improving every year since he arrived and his development as a base runner makes him a dual offensive threat. 'Josh is guy that you can count on day in and day out to give you his best effort,' Olney said.

Preston Jensen (Valley City, ND) and junior Matt Borgford (Pinawa, MB) are slated to play a majority of the time at the corner outfield spots. Jensen, looks to build on solid freshman year offensively, the Vikings will be looking for him to become more consistent at the plate and expect that another year under his belt should help him. 'Preston is a hard working young man and it has paid dividends for him,' Olney said. 'He will be a big part of our team this year defensively and offensively.' Borgford, the team's official 'cage rat,' is looking to make a big splash offensively this season. 'Matt is unquestionably the hardest worker I have ever coached and no one who has been around him would argue that point,' Olney said. 'He has gained a lot of strength and poise since he arrived here and I am hoping for really good things from him this season.'

Right handed hitting Mike Danielson (New London, MN) will also play a significant role in the Vikings offense splitting time between left field and designated hitter this season. 'Mike brings some legitimate power to our lineup, but he will have to be a little more selective at the plate this year in order to realize his full potential,' Olney said. Cliff Vasquez (Tucson, AZ), Cole Krueger (Minot, ND), and Jack of all trades Derek Zitzow (Valley City, ND) could also see time in the outfield.

Outlook

No doubt the Vikings will have to be better in all areas if they are to improve on last season's record. The Vikings finished with a team batting average of .252, an ERA of 7.25, and a fielding percentage of .937. 'The numbers don't lie, we will need to improve if we are going to compete at the level we want to be at,' Olney said. 'The league should be very tough again this year and we are going to face some really talented teams early on our southern trips,' Olney said. 'Last season I knew we were going to face some challenges with all the new faces in our lineup, but now our guys have a better understanding of and comfort level with what it takes to be successful. I keep telling the guys that we are very close to being a top level team. We just need everyone to get just a little bit better than they were a season ago. I know the guys have been working very hard and it should pay off for them this year.'