Mar 5th, 2009 @ 7:08 pm | Author: Viking Sports Admin
The 2009 Viking baseball team enters the season optimistically under second-year Head Coach Casey Olney. There are a lot of new faces on the roster this season for a team that is eager to prove itself in the tough Dakota Athletic Conference (DAC). After graduating 10 seniors following the 2008 season, and carrying only one senior on the roster this year, the Vikings are picked to finish sixth in the DAC. Gone are several key members of the Viking team from past seasons: longtime ace Jason Beilke, three year starter at first base Reid Arnold, Region III and DAC Gold Glove winning right fielder Jeremy Wiebe, Team MVP and DAC Gold Glove winning third baseman Chris Olson, three year starting catcher Braden Raskob-Smith, starting SS Tony Forster, left fielder Bryce Ingram, and infielder Matt Huonder.
Coach Olney believes this years Vikings are young and hungry and is confident that the team could be a surprise contender down the road. 'These guys have a lot to prove. We have a number of players stepping into roles that they have not been in before. It all depends on how ready they are and how well they handle being the guy.' The 2009 Vikings may appear younger than they actually are, with red shirt (RS) junior Josh Standing Elk, RS sophomores Ian Jansen and Josh Evans, and transfers Justin Connell, Mike Danielson, and Matt Borgford all probable starters, the team may not be as inexperienced as it would appear at first glance. Coach Olney said, 'We have added a few players to fill certain needs and also have players who have been in the program and are familiar with the league and our way of doing things. It's so important to have guys who are ready when it is their time to step in and play. Our goal is to develop our players within the program so they can step right in and be ready when it's their time. That's what successful programs do and that's the situation we are trying to create here. We will see if we have succeeded so far.'
Offensively the Vikings will be led by RS sophomore Evans and sophomore Tanner Bombenger, who both had above average offensive numbers in 2008. Bombenger hit .267 overall in 2008 which was second among freshman in the DAC. Evans, who took over as the starter in centerfield half way through the 2008 season, hit .321with a .429 on base percentage.
Outside Bombenger and Evans the Vikes do not have a proven commodity with the bat. The lone senior Cory Arnason spent last season pitching exclusively but did have 55 at bats two years ago as a sophomore. Olney said 'Cory has really committed himself and is in great shape this season. He is stronger and more ready now than he was two years ago to be an impact type player swinging the bat.' Standing Elk was an all conference performer two seasons ago at Bismarck State College (BSC) in the Mon-Dak as was Shane Schoeneberg last season. Also joining the Vikes from BSC is junior catcher Connell. 'Josh, Shane, and Justin have all played a lot of college baseball and that should serve us well going forward.' said Olney. Borgford, Northern Iowa Area CC, and Danielson, Ridgewater CC, have shown promise in the fall, and winter. 'Matt swings the bats well from the left side and Mike has shown outstanding power and should be the opening day DH. I know both of those guys have the ability to get the job done at the plate.' said Olney. After sitting out last season, RS sophomore Jansen is also penciled into the lineup. 'This is Ian's third year in the program and I think that this is the year that he is really ready to contribute. When Ian was recruited we thought that he could be an outstanding college hitter and this year is his chance to prove us right.'
The Vikings have several freshmen who are expected to contribute this season including Garrett Jackson from Gillette, WY, Mark Kerkowich from Neepawa, MB, and Valley City native Preston Jensen. Jackson hit .341 with 5 HR's and 39 RBI's last season for the Gillette Wyoming Legion team which captured the Wyoming state title. Kerkowich hit .416 in the Canada Cup while playing for the Manitoba Provincial youth team. Jensen led all freshmen this fall in the VFL by hitting .386 and hit .439 with 7 HR's this summer for the Valley City legion team. 'All three of these guys are ready physically to do the job in college.' said Olney.
The infield will be anchored at shortstop by Bombenger who will slide over from second base for the 2009 campaign. Bombenger is an outstanding athlete who will make all of the routine plays and can make the great play as well. The slick fielding Jansen will take over at second base and should continue to give the Vikings the same type of solid defense they got there in 2008 from Bombenger and Matt Huonder. Jansen and Bombenger should give the Vikings a potent double play combination. Junior Greg Miller will back up Jansen at second base. Third base will be manned by Standing Elk and freshman Kerkowich. Standing Elk won the spot this fall by leading the team in batting average and playing solid defense. Kerkowich, who is an above average defender, will man the hot corner when Standing Elk is pitching and should also expect to see time in the infield in a utility role. At first base senior Arnason is the favorite to be the starter, but Schoeneberg and Roberto Rodriguez Chandler-Gilbert CC are also competing for the spot. 'I am very comfortable with the group that we will put out on the infield. It is an athletic bunch that has been very cohesive this fall and spring.' said Olney.
The Vikings catcher position is a three way battle between Connell, Jackson, and RS freshman Cliff Vazquez. Connell brings valuable experience to the position after playing at BSC for two seasons. He has a strong arm and a quick release that should give would be base stealers trouble and he has shown the ability to handle a staff and call a game in the past. Jackson is a true freshman with outstanding potential, and Vazquez is a good athlete with an outstanding feel for calling a game. Freshman Zach Michaelson completes the catching corps for the Vikings. 'Justin has outstanding tools and we are glad to have a player with his level of experience behind the plate. Garrett is developing nicely and Cliff has an excellent rapport with the pitching staff.' said Olney.
In the outfield, Evans returns to center after taking over during the 2008 season. Evans is a first-rate athlete who was still learning the position last season after playing shortstop during his high school career. Freshman Derek Zitzow, a shortstop during his high school career, will make the move to the outfield and back up Evans in center. Borgford and Jensen will be penciled in to start in left and right field with Vazquez and Danielson backing up at the corner outfield spots. 'We have a good group in the outfield who should provide some internal competition for the corner spots. I like the mix of arms and speed that we have and I am very happy with how they have been working so far this year. Josh (Evans) has looked a lot more comfortable out there this year and I look for him to be the leader on the field.' said Olney.
The 2009 pitching staff looks far different than the staff the Vikings had one year ago. A season ago nine different pitchers started conference games, in 2009 the Vikings are looking for more consistency out of the staff and the front line starters. While many of the faces are relatively new, on paper the overall talent and depth of the staff has been upgraded.
Sophomore Taylor Nelson, second year player Nathan Lutkemeier, Standing Elk, and Zitzow are battling for the weekend starter spots. Nelson and Lutkemeier were both first year players last season that gained valuable experience and have improved significantly as they move into their second seasons. Standing Elk, who red shirted in 2008, brings big game experience to the rotation and Zitzow is a young talent that could surprise as the season moves forward. Standing Elk and Nelson are the favorites to start the opening weekend.
Three lefties will be competing for two spots in the starting rotation. Dan Maurer, a junior from Linn-Benton CC, Schoeneberg, and Rodriguez all bring experience to the rotation. Schoeneberg was an all conference selection at BSC and Rodriguez pitched at the DI JUCO level in the competitive Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC). Maurer and Rodriguez are penciled in to start the opening weekend.
The bullpen will be staffed by the remaining starters after those jobs are won and by Evans, Evan Berndt, Logan Midthun, Preston Jensen, and Arnason. The closer role will be filled by junior Grant Kragness. Kragness will move from the starting rotation and be called upon to get outs at the end of the game. Evans and Arnason saw significant innings last season but will focus on playing in the field in 2009. First year players Berndt, Jensen, and Midthun will be spot relievers for the Vikings. Rounding out the staff will be Alex Beach, Greg Miller, DJ Allard, Joey Duttenhefer, Mike Danielson, and Zach Michaelson. Olney says 'The staff this year is a bit more experienced overall. We have two of the opening day rotation guys from last season moving into the bullpen which I think shows that we have improved from a talent perspective. In baseball it really always comes down to pitching and the depth that teams have on the mound. If we can stay healthy early on I like what we bring to the table.'
The Vikings are scheduled to open the season with a weekend series against Midland Lutheran in Fremont, NE on March 6th and 7th. They will then take on Dana College on the 13th and 14th in Blair, NE before heading to Brownsville TX for the spring trip. While in Brownsville the Vikings play seven games vs. Fisher College from Boston, MA and the University of Texas-Brownsville.