AU steps up to the plate for 2018 season


The Augustana University baseball team hit the month of February out of the park with five straight wins to start the season, four coming in a Hawaiian luau against the University of Hawaii at Hilo and one against Adams State University in Colorado.image3-3.png

Head coach Tim Huber, in his tenth year at the helm, said some of the early success was, in part, due to the competition, but he still saw promising play.

“Some of it was who we played,” Huber said. “The competition in Hawaii is the reason we were able to get all of those wins. But regardless of how talented they are, we found ways to win and signs of things to come this season.”

Sophomore righty reliever Caleb Stratmoen said the team was happy to finally get to play as a group.

“It was good to finally get outside after being indoors all year, and finally see the ball flying around,” Stratmoen said. “From an age standpoint, we really saw how well-rounded this group is. We have seniors leading the team defensively and underclassmen contributing on both sides of the ball, and it was good to see everyone finally get to perform.”

Last season, the Vikings finished second in the NSIC with a record of 37-22. This year, five starting position players and one starting pitcher return to the squad.

The lone returning pitcher is righty Jacob Blank, who was a 2017 first team All-American and the NSIC Pitcher of the Year, thanks to his 10-0 record, 86 strikeouts and a 0.78 ERA that finished lowest in the NCAA. He was also selected as the NSIC Preseason Pitcher of the Year this season.

Huber said the Blank-led starting rotation is the team’s biggest question mark this season, with a pair of right-handed Division I transfers, seniors Tyler Mitzel from Arkansas State and David Flattery from Nebraska-Omaha.

“Mitzel is gonna have as much talent as anyone in our conference, what matters is how he can put his stuff together,” Huber said. “David Flattery looked okay in the winter and then just pitched awesome in Hawaii. So with those two and Jacob Blank, we think our top three could be as good as anyone in the conference, but there are questions about how they perform down the stretch and then obviously what do you do about our four, five and six spots.”

The lineup is bolstered by returning 2017 NSIC Freshman of the Year, sophomore infielder Sam Baier, who hit .313 with 32 RBI last season, and 2017 second team All-NSIC member, senior switch-hitting infielder Lucas Barry, boasting a .329 average with 40 runs driven in from last season. 2017 NSIC Gold Glove senior catcher Ryan Menssen returns to shore up behind the plate.

With only ten seniors on the roster, Huber said he expects underclassmen, including multiple freshmen, to have significant playing time.

“Some seniors will get beat out by freshmen that are going to end up playing significant time all year, and so those seniors will have to deal with that,” Huber said. “But the freshman might go through a bad stretch, and then the senior needs to step up. So it’s a matter of everyone being ready to do what’s needed all year long.”

Sophomore reliever Ben Moran said the players are prepared to meet those expectations.

“The expectation is that the best guy will be playing, no matter what age,” Moran said. “And you should be happy for him but at the same time work even harder to beat him out.”

Ultimately, Huber believes this team can succeed where it matters.

“We’ve been so close so many different times, whether that would be just missing the regional, or just missing the World Series,” Huber said. “Baseball is really a game where it matters how you play at the end of the year. I’ve seen teams no one thought were good enough to win make it to the World Series because they kept it together at the end of the year. And I think this group, with these guys, might be capable of that success.”

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