'Locked in': Roughriders sharpen performance ahead of Minnesota tourney
Lingering a mere 90 feet away from the plate, Kobe Krenz looked to make his move.
In the second inning of a contest against Glendive (Mont.) on Tuesday, July 10, the Dickinson second baseman stood at third as the Roughriders took a 3-2 lead.
Taking his customary lead off the bag, Krenz had his eyes peeled on Blue Devils battery mates Cade Dockter and starting pitcher Trenton Reinhart, noticing that Dockter was having some trouble throwing the ball back to the mound.
Colton Jones took ball two at the plate when Krenz's moment had arrived. Dockter's toss was out of the reach of Reinhart's glove as the ball bounced toward the left side of the infield, allowing for an alert Krenz to dart home without hesitation. The loose ball was gathered and thrown home by the shortstop, but Krenz slid underneath Dockter's tag just in time to score.
"Coach was telling me to be ready because they've thrown it back there a couple of times already," Krenz said. "[Coach] was telling me to get your weight leaning out in case they did it again. They did it again and I scored.
"It was kind of a split-second reaction. When I saw the ball go higher than usual, I got ready to score."
Krenz's dash to the dish is the latest example of a more engaged Roughriders squad in the midst of a turnaround. Head coach Stephen Greenwood pointed to his team's ability to run the bases as a key to the recent change of fortune.
"I think our biggest strength honestly is baserunning. It's hard to believe that plays such a big factor in a game, but it does," Greenwood said. "It all connects with putting pressure on their pitcher and their defense to make plays because they know we are going to take the extra base and steal bases.
"When we work on it in practice, and it's not their favorite thing to do for obvious reasons because it's running, but we keep preaching every day that when you are on the bases, you have to be 100 percent focused."
After dropping 15 of its first 18 games, Dickinson has doubled their early-season win total, capturing three of their last four contests. They swept the Blue Devils, collecting their first doubleheader sweep of the summer.
In their last four games, the Roughriders are 19-for-22 on stolen base attempts. Jones has swiped five bags in the stretch, leading the team.
"It's semi-crazy the leads that we're getting. We're getting 12-foot leads; major leaguers don't even get 12-foot leads," Greenwood said. "We're going 24 feet on our secondary. We have a saying that 'you aren't getting picked off if you aren't stealing.' When we take our leads, our eyes are on the pitcher the whole time. Their focus is just locked in with what we are doing, because they know if they take a split second off, they'll be out."
While the head coach points to baserunning, Dickinson's uptick in play may be a product of a team meeting following an 11-1 defeat to the Great Falls Chargers (Mont.) on June 23 during the Goldsmith Gallery Legion against Cancer Tournament in Montana. In the five games since, the Roughriders have outscored their opponents by a 42-30 margin.
"That meeting really turned us around," infielder and pitcher Jaren Hugelen said. "We talked about how we really need to play more as a team, have more energy during games and pick each other up when we are down."
Hugelen has done his part with his bat in the middle of the order. Since the meeting, he is hitting .556 (10-for-18) with four extra-base hits, four runs scored and six runs batted in. His .431 batting average paces the Roughriders.
"I just time up in the on-deck circle, get into the batter's box and I'm looking for a first-pitch fastball. And if it's there, I hit it," Hugelen said of his approach. "I pick up the window above [the pitcher's] shoulder so I can track the ball easily and I just hit it where it's pitched."
On Thursday, July 12, Dickinson hits the road for a 500-mile, seven-hour trip to Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., to compete in the Gopher Classic over the weekend.
In their first tournament test since the Goldsmith Galley Tournament, Dickinson will play at least five games in a three-day span.
While the amount of games over a short period of time will be a quite the task, Greenwood is less worried about adding to the win column and more interested in continuing the recent trend of sound, concentrated baseball.
"What we are looking for is the progression that we are starting to take right now. We don't want to take any steps back," Greenwood said. "I'll be honest, I don't care if we win or lose. I'm not worried about that right now, I'm just worried about getting better every day. You can play your best game of year and still lose—that's baseball.
"It's always a challenge when you are dealing with younger people; focus is not easy," Greenwood said. "So it's our job as coaches to identify what kids may be having some struggles of keeping focus for that long. We'll get some different matchups and get some different players into games that may not normally get to play if we were playing a doubleheader."