Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:34 pm | Author: By Ryan Cunningham NewsDakota.com
Viking Baseball Facing Struggles, Concordia
By Ryan Cunningham NewsDakota.com

April 6th

Valley City--With a record of 4-18, the Viking baseball team has not had a lot to be positive about through the first month of the season.

It has not been all negative. The Vikings have had some pleasant surprises, according to head coach Casey Olney.

The problem has been uncovering those surprises in concert with expectations being met simultaneously.

"For some reason, we are struggling to put a complete game together," says Olney a day after a 7-1 loss to Jamestown College, a game that followed dropping the first four games of the Dakota Athletic Conference (DAC) season to Dakota State.

"I didn't think our offense would be this good, so that's been a pleasant surprise," Olney explains. "Our defense and pitching has let us down lately, in my mind."

Yet, Olney is the first to point to how even good hitting would not show up on a day that pitching improved, refering to Monday's game with the Jimmies.

The last time Roberto Rodriguez (Jr., Chandler, AZ, pictured right) faced the Jimmies, he was tagged to the tune of 12 runs on 13 hits in just two innings. Eight days later, he surrenders just one earned over five innings in Jamestown.

The Viking offense, a club hitting .330 as a team, managed just six hits, controlled by five Jimmie pitchers. The defense still struggled.

"It should have been 3-1 going into the last inning," Olney remembers of the game. "We drop a ball in the outfield, and two runs score. We throw wild, and two more score. We have to clean that up."

The bright spot at the plate was Josh Evans (So., Hayfield, MN, left), who has put together a solid start with the bat. His solo homer was the lone Viking run yesterday, and he added it to an offensive resume that includes over .500 slugging, nearly as many walks as strikeouts (10/13), and nine of 10 in the stolen base catagory.

"Josh is all heart, and he plays so hard. He's been really effective at the plate," says Olney.

The much bigger surprise has been shortstop Colin Waldner (Fr., Altona, MB). He was 5-8 in the final two games at Dakota State last weekend, and hit two home runs and a double in the series.

"We were planning on having him in the bullpen, but he won the shortstop job inside," Olney explains. "In fall ball, he couldn't hit the ball out of the infield, so his bat has been a total surprise."

"He weighs 145 pounds, so to say I'm surprised by his offense is an understatement," adds Olney.

Olney says the trouble has been with the pitching staff, and it's something he knows must be worked out if the Vikings are to have any chance of competing for a spot in the top half of the DAC.

The trouble is, that staff took a hit and saw a lot of changes last weekend at Dakota State.

The first change was removing Derek Zitzow (Fr., Valley City, ND, right) from the closer's role to a starter. "We just haven't been getting to him enough to use him, and he's too talented not to use. He will stay in the starter's role," says Olney.

Zitzow was okay, but not spectacular, giving up seven earned on six hits over five innings. He walked five batters, leading to larger trouble.

The hit came in the 29-19 mess of game three. Dan Maurer (Jr., Klamath Falls, OR), the ace of the staff, got the start, threw just 10 pitches, and had to leave with an injury to his pitching shoulder.

"You lose your ace, and you have 16 innings to pitch that day. That's definitely not a good spot. We threw two position players five innings in that game," Olney explains.

Olney added, a bit suggestively, "To put it mildly, the strike zone was challenging for the pitchers in that game. The wind was blowing out to right, and 48 runs get scored. No one at the park had fun that game, not even Dakota State."

While the errors have led to trouble, Olney attributes some of that trouble to pitching. "Sure, we've kicked it around a bit, but when you've got batted balls coming at you at 110 miles an hour, you're going to kick it some," he says.

"We need to strike some people out and walk less batters. The errors probably don't hurt as much if we do that. I need to straighten out my pitching staff if we are to have any chance of being in the top half of the conference," says Olney.

As the Vikings face Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) Tuesday, Olney is concentrating more on the league and his team than the opposition.

"We need to take care of our business. Starting 0-4 (in the DAC) puts us in a tough spot. Jamestown is probably the best team in the league, but the rest is still a crap shoot."