Seniors look to lead DWU baseball team this seasonThe Dakota Wesleyan baseball team may have been selected to finish sixth in the conference preseason polls but DWU coach Steve Gust is cautiously optimistic about his 2013 baseball squad.
By: Aaron Saunders, The Daily Republic
The Dakota Wesleyan baseball team may have been selected to finish sixth in the conference preseason polls but DWU coach Steve Gust is cautiously optimistic about his 2013 baseball squad.
The Tigers return five senior starters to their lineup. Gust said seniors Nick Tadlock, Michael Lukkason, Kirk McBreen, Erick Nockleby and Todd Kaplan will all be counted on to anchor DWU offensively.
Last season, each of the five players appeared in at least 50 games for the Tigers, who finished fourth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference with an 11-9 mark and 24-32 overall record.
Outfield/designated hitter, Tadlock, who finished with seven home runs last season, was selected as a first-team all-conference member as a designated hitter.
Outfielder Nockleby batted .358 with two home runs and 27 runs batted in and was voted in as a member of the all-conference second team, and Kaplan, a catcher and all-conference honorable mention selection, hit .313 and boasted a .418 slugging percentage.
Second baseman McBreen hit .225 and 19 RBIs, while shortstop Lukkason was an all-conference honorable mention selection and finished with a .284 batting average, two home runs and 35 RBIs.
The duo will not only be relied upon for their bats but also for their leadership up the middle as the Tigers’ double-play tandem. The two infielders combined for 23 errors last season.
“Offensively, this is a pretty potent team, and I think we can do a lot of things,” Gust said. “We have some guys who have some speed and some guys who can hit for average and power.”
On the mound, DWU lost Hauff Mid-America Sports Pitcher of the Year Ethan Opshal to graduation.
Opsahl, who is now an assistant coach for the Tigers, won nine games and finished with a 3.43 earned run average (ERA) last season.
DWU returns junior left-handed pitcher Chris Housley, who finished with a 2.48 ERA last season, which was best on the team. Seniors Josh Wagner and Nick Pecha also return for the Tigers on the mound.
Pecha’s five wins last season were good enough for second on the team, while Wagner led the team in appearances with 21.
“The big question mark is the pitching. If we are going to have success this year, our pitching staff is going to have to step up,” Gust said. “We have 20 pitchers in camp right now and we are looking for 12 guys to really step up. We won’t be overpowering on the mound, so guys are really going to have to pitch.”
The Tigers began preseason practice at the beginning of January in preparation for their season opener against Montana State University, Billings on Feb. 8 in the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Due to inclement weather, the squad has been preparing for its upcoming season in the gym.
“We’d like to be outside, but obviously that’s not happening. Last season, we were outside at this time but when you are in the gym, you work on the fundamentals and hopefully that pays off when we open the season,” Gust said.
“We are going to open up with northern teams, so basically everybody is in the same boat.”