Augustana baseball team rebuilding but contending in 2023
Perennial NSIC power finding new contributors on offense, relying on sound pitching
With a three-game sweep of Minnesota-Crookston, the team directly behind them in the NSIC standings, the Augustana baseball team made something of a statement over the weekend.
They're going to be in the hunt again.
The Vikings, who made their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament last spring, graduated some of the biggest bats in Division II baseball after last year, with Carter Howell, Jordan Barth, Will Olson and JT Mix, among others, exhausting their eligibility. Ace pitcher Tanner Brown moved on, too.
So after a 47-13 record in 2022, it would not be unfair to suggest 2023 is somewhat of a rebuilding year. As it turns out, however, the Vikings can rebuild and win at the same time. Saturday's 10-1 sweep-clinching win improved this year's squad's record to 25-13, and 14-4 in NSIC play, right on the heels of first-place MSU-Mankato.
"Overall it's been solid," said coach Tim Huber, who guided Augie to the 2018 national championship. "Our record is fine, it's just been different. We're younger, we lost a lot of talent and we're just not as dominant as we've been."
The good news is where the Vikings said goodbye to tons of offensive production, their pitching staff remains one of the deepest in the region. Caleb Saari, Seth Miller and Ryan Jares all returned to the staff this season. Jares was the preseason pitcher of the year in the NSIC after going 8-2 with a 2.78 ERA last year, but has struggled this season, going 4-4 with a 5.45 ERA. Huber said a stint in the bullpen might get their former ace back on track. Meanwhile Saari (4-2, 2.99) and Miller (5-1, 3.16) have picked up the slack, along with what's been an outstanding bullpen, led by Adam Diedrich (1.42, 6 saves). Caleb Kranz (2-1, 5.34), Ashton Michek (2-1, 3.42), Ryan Clementi (1-0, 2.53) and Tom Sun (2-0, 3.46) have also been good.
That leaves the bats as the question mark, but things are definitley trending in the right direction. The Vikings scored 29 runs in their three game sweep of Crookston, after scoring double figure runs in five of the seven games prior to that. They're hitting .297 as a team with 38 homers in 38 games and a .409 on-base percentage. And they haven't given up on Huber's longtime calling card, the running game, with 100 stolen bases (in 119 attempts).
Shortstop Jack Hines has led the way, batting .393 with four homers, while catcher Drey Dirksen (.371, 8 homers), Ragan Pinnow (.263, 7 homers), Trevor Winterstein (.324, 4 homers, 20 steals) and Nick Banowetz (.374, 22 steals) have also put up good numbers. But those numbers have at times been padded against lesser pitching staffs — Huber makes clear he wants more consistency and better at-bats from several of his hitters.
"The offense hasn't come along yet but we're getting better," Huber said. "We're finally getting outside now, so we're hoping it starts to click. We just haven't been terribly consistent. There are a lot of guys that still need to pick it up a bit."
The Vikings head to North Dakota for a double header with Mary on Wednesday before a big weekend series in Mankato to face the NSIC-leading Mavericks. Then they're home April 19 to host USF in a Wednesday rivalry double dip.