Blue Hawks ready to start season
The Dickinson State baseball team was feeling the symptoms of cabin fever.
“Indoor practice was getting old,” DSU head coach Jason Watson said. “We try to go outside a little bit at a time if we can with weather cooperation, get some fly balls and ground balls on the football field. “It’s getting pretty monotonous inside. Guys are getting ready to get outside and play.”
The Blue Hawks no longer need to wait as they officially start the season in a doubleheader against Dakota Wesleyan University (S.D.) today in Lindsborg, Kan.Despite the long-awaited outdoor play, Watson said being indoors was a good chance to help the team practice certain mechanics, like hitting in the cages and taking ground balls. But the players were anxious to get outside and practice other things they weren’t capable of doing in the gym.
“Getting outside and taking ground balls the first time we were a little shaky,” DSU sophomore first baseman Eric Seiler said. “But we just got to get used to being outside again and getting on the turf getting actual ground balls instead of off that rubber floor in Weinbergen.”
With the season officially under way, the Blue Hawks know what they have to work on in order to be successful. Last season the team enjoyed success and heartbreak. In its annual trip to Arizona, DSU beat Lubbock Christian (Texas), now a Division II program, 13-7 and was at a season-high 24-12 record in April.
However, DSU fell apart at the end and lost seven of its last eight games — including two games in the conference tournament — and left 54 runners on base.
“We could get guys on base, we could move them over, we just couldn’t get them in,” Watson said. “Pitchers threw well. We were in every game. A hit here hit there is a different story. We live and learn from our mistakes in the past.”
In those final eight games, DSU lost by slim margins — one or two runs. This year, the Blue Hawks are focusing on executing offensively, working on their approach at the plate in order to figure out how to get those extra runs in.
Overall, the team tried to put in extra work outside of scheduled practices to work on the fundamentals and avoid another upsetting end to the season.
“In the fall we just tried to get out on the field as much as we could,” junior catcher Ryan Risse said. “When we can practice or when coach didn’t have a practice schedule. Just putting in more time because looking back to last year and not being able to play after those first two losses, you don’t want to go out like that.”
DSU lost six seniors and returns a large chunk of its players, a majority of which are juniors and sophomores with last season’s collapse fresh in their minds.
Watson expects the added experience for the team to help with leadership in various areas. One of the biggest leaders on the team is Risse, a three-year starting catcher. Risse has been around as long as Watson and the two have learned to be on the same page when it comes to defense and pitching. Watson said Risse will have more freedom with calling pitches behind the plate.
“I feel comfortable letting him call the game,” Watson said. “He knows the pitchers better, he sees the hitters and knows what they do he’s right up there.”
Other key returners for the Blue Hawks are senior second baseman and leadoff hitter Joe Binstock, senior infielders Chris Mjelstad and Jake Coyle, junior pitchers Nick Kearley and Chas Allen. Senior left-handed pitcher Ian Anderson threw mostly out of the bullpen last year. Seiler — a Dickinson High graduate — and Beach native sophomore left fielder Jordan Tescher.
Seiler is a versatile player who is a consistent at first base, on the pitching mound as well as at the plate. Last season he finished with a .267 batting average in 75 at bats and went 3-3 with a 3.93 earned run average.
Tescher transferred from the University of Jamestown last year and proved to be a threat in the outfield and in batting. Tescher led the team with a .408 average, 49 hits and 39 runs batted in.
With the lack of assistant coaches on the team, Watson is relying on Tescher to step up and use his leadership skills to run the outfield.
The Blue Hawks have been impatiently waiting for the beginning of the season to start and with it finally here, the team is ready to redeem itself and become a presence in the conference.
“We don’t want to beat ourselves, which is what happened last year,” Tescher said. “Every team we played last year, we can play with. We just have to have the mentality to make sure we play within ourselves.”