Hawks feel good about new season

Each spring, baseball teams throughout the country feel hopeful that the new season will be better than the last. Dickinson State is part of that clich?. A rocky start to the 2008 campaign coupled with persistent injury problems to the Blue Hawks...

Each spring, baseball teams throughout the country feel hopeful that the new season will be better than the last.

Dickinson State is part of that cliché.

A rocky start to the 2008 campaign coupled with persistent injury problems to the Blue Hawks' pitching staff, made for a rollercoaster season. They finished 25-26-1 after starting the year 3-13 and won the Dakota Athletic Conference tournament before losing out in three games at the NAIA Region III tournament.

However, a new day -- and all the promise that comes with it -- begins this afternoon when DSU opens its season with two nine-inning doubleheaders in Lewiston, Idaho.

Playing at the site of the NAIA World Series, DSU takes on Northwest Nazarene at 1:30 p.m. before playing host Lewis-Clark State, the three-time defending NAIA national champions and this year's preseason pick to win it again.


DSU coach Duane Monlux knows stepping out of Wienbergen Gymnasium and onto the top-ranked team in the nation's field won't be easy. But, he's confident the Blue Hawks can hold their own.

"Are we going to have to play a great game? You bet," Monlux said. "You've got to get timely hits, key pitches and not boot the ball around. The one thing we'll have is enthusiasm."

While pitching woes created many dilemmas last season, Monlux believes the team has solved that problem.

Junior Julien Ramirez will take the hill against Northwest Nazarene and junior Jamil Acosta will have the start against Lewis-Clark State.

Monlux hopes the two, who were both standouts in southern California's strong junior college leagues, are able to provide the Blue Hawks' rotation with stability and depth.

Junior Ryan Saunders, who sat out 2008 with an injury, will start against Lewis-Clark State at 1 p.m. Saturday and Alex Perrott, the team's top returning pitcher from last season, will get the nod Sunday afternoon against St. Martin's.

Monlux said those four will comprise the team's rotation to begin the season. He added a well-rounded staff of relievers should give those starters a better chance to rest their arms.

"There's no question we're going to be better," Monlux said.


While there are several new faces, the Blue Hawks return a capable duo in senior Tony Isbell and junior Nolan Bracken.

Isbell, will be the team's primary designated hitter while seeing time in the outfield and as a closing pitcher.

Last season, Isbell was named an NAIA All-American after finishing the season with team highs of 12 home runs and 74 RBI, a .370 batting average and a .636 slugging percentage.

Bracken, an outfielder, hit .385 with 12 doubles, two homers and 22 RBI. Entering his third year on the field, he is already one of DSU's all-time leaders in several categories.

Bracken is 10th all-time in batting average and eighth in on-base percentage. He's 23 runs away from Marcus Davis' all-time runs scored record of 96 and 11 doubles from Dan Boudreau's record of 32.

He's also on pace to break Danny Shorb's career records of 138 hits, 154 games started and 462 at-bats. With 10 more walks, he'll be the all-time leader that category, another currently held by Shorb.

"It's cool when you look at the past history here and you see your name climbing up the charts," Bracken said. "I don't really try to focus on it. I just try and go game-by-game. Sometimes, it gets tough if you put too much pressure on yourself trying to break records. I like to stay calm. I'm a relaxed type of player."

Around the infield, the Blue Hawks return senior Efrain Ruiz at first base while sophomore Derrick Gunderson, who played seldom last season, will be the team's opening day starter at second base. A pair of transfers will shore up the left side of the infield. Junior slugger Mike Nash is leading candidate to fill an open spot at third base.


Monlux has high expectations for junior shortstop Chance Holland, who'll likely bat leadoff.

"He's one of our best players," Monlux said. "... We've just got to keep him healthy."

Junior Chris Young will be the team's catcher today against Northwest Nazarene. While Young will see the most time behind the plate, Monlux said the Blue Hawks can also turn to junior Ben Stanbury and sophomore Max Pearson.

Besides Bracken, the outfield remains a bit of a question mark for the Blue Hawks.

Senior Dan Fernandez, who started 45 of the 48 games he played in last season, and Isbell are the likeliest candidates for the two remaining spots but they could see a push from sophomore Liam Foran and junior Kade Larson, both of whom transferred to DSU this year.

Monlux said the only certainty with his lineup and rotation is that, by the end of the year, neither will be the same as they are today.

"Yes, we have an idea of who we think are going to be our starters, who we think are going to be our guys," Monlux said. "Every year we've had at least one or two guys we don't think are going to be major impact guys, then all of a sudden, boom, somebody gets hurt, they get a chance and they run with it."

Dickinson State Blue Hawks baseball Opening day lineup


1. Chance Holland, SS, Jr.

2. Nolan Bracken, RF, Jr.

3. Efrain Ruiz, 1B, Sr.

4. Tony Isbell, DH, Sr.

5. Mike Nash, 3B, Jr.

6. Derrick Gunderson, 2B, So.

7. Liam Foran, CF, So.

8. Chris Young, C, Jr.


9. Dan Fernandez, LF, Sr.

SP - Julian Ramirez, LH, Jr.

Games today

Dickinson State vs. Northwest Nazarene, noon

Dickinson State vs. Lewis-Clark State, 3:30 p.m.

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