Gust seeing largest Wesleyan baseball roster at fall campSteve Gust’s roster has ballooned to its largest total ever. The Dakota Wesleyan University baseball coach has 56 players on the team, which is in its second week of fall practice.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Steve Gust’s roster has ballooned to its largest total ever.
The Dakota Wesleyan University baseball coach has 56 players on the team, which is in its second week of fall practice.
“We had to put names on the back of jerseys so everyone knew who each other is,” Gust said. “We have a lot of new guys and a lot of returners, but everyone is getting to know each other and we’re working on fundamentals.”
The Tigers, who finished fourth in the 11-team Great Plains Athletic Conference last year, are allotted seven weeks of fall practice by NAIA rules. They’re also scheduled to play roughly 10 games against a team comprised of South Dakota amateur baseball all-stars. The first matchup is a doubleheader starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Cadwell Park Sports Complex in Mitchell.
This is the second straight year Dakota Wesleyan is playing fall games in Mitchell against a group of amateur baseball players. Gust says it gives him a good opportunity to see freshmen players in action, and helps build team unity.
“We really like our freshman class,” Gust said. “I would anticipate a lot of guys vying for playing time this spring. Everyone has some talent and things to offer us.”
Gust’s team has 22 pitchers on the roster, including nine lefties and 13 right-handers. The Tigers’ ace from last year, Ethan Opsahl, graduated and is playing for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. Opsahl is returning to the team as a pitching coach this year.
“He was the only one we lost from our starting pitching staff,” said Gust, whose team returns its entire starting lineup besides its catcher from last year.
Despite losing Opsahl, who was named the GPAC pitcher of the year in the spring, Gust said he’s looking forward to seeing shortstop Michael Lukkason contribute this year.
This summer, Lukkason played 70 games for Rochester Honkers in the Northwoods League, a summer baseball league comprised of some of the top college baseball players in the nation. With DWU, he was fifth on the team among regular starters in batting average at .284 last year. He also had 14 extra-base hits and 162 at-bats.
“He improved tremendously,” Gust said. “He had some talent for us last year, but the 70 games in the Northwoods League did him some good. He’s playing at another level right now. The expectations will be high and he’s up for it. I would anticipate him to be one of the better shortstops in the conference.”
Three other DWU players also got Northwoods League time over the summer. Pitcher Nick Pecha and Zac Custer, and center fielder Erik Nockleby all played part-time with teams.
With all of the returning talent and the incoming freshmen, Gust believes his team can improve off its 11-9 GPAC record last year. In 2011, DWU finished 6-15 in the conference.
“We did a nice job rebounding last year and we hopefully can make some strides off that again this year,” Gust said.