The Augustana baseball team is coming into the 2019 season with a championship win under its belt, a No. 1 ranking and lofty hopes.
The team wants to repeat last season’s NCAA Division II National Championship win and senior right-hand pitcher Derek Dahlke thinks it can happen: “Why not?” he said.
At 1-1 in the 2019 season, the No. 1 Augustana Vikings showcased their ability at the plate, scoring 12 runs off of 13 hits in their win over the Lindenwood Lions in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, on Feb. 17.
Although it’s a new season and a new team, head coach Tim Huber said that there is some talent returning.
“We’ve returned seven of our nine starters,” Huber said.
On the mound defensively, sophomore left-handed pitcher Tanner Brown found himself in a bases-loaded situation against the Lions in the seventh inning, yet only allowed one run to score.
Behind the plate, sophomore infielder and 2018 NSIC Freshman of the Year Jordan Barth knocked out a home run in the fourth inning and recorded two RBIs and three runs scored in an effort that led the Vikings to a solid 12-3 victory over Lindenwood.
Picked to win the league for the first time since joining the NSIC in 2008, Huber said that there is a lot of talent the team has to offer on the field this season.
“A lot of what happens here is probably going to come down to what these guys are capable of,” he said.
Dahlke, who made 24 appearances in the 2018 National Championship season and recorded 40 strikeouts with less than a handful of walks, said that the experience many of the returning players possess will be a valuable asset to the team.
“I think the thing that has changed for the better would be the fact of the experience that this team brings back now,” said Dahlke. “A lot of the guys who were on that national championship team last year are back again, like the position players.”
Looking back on last year’s program-best 52 wins and program-first National Championship, Huber explained that last year’s success was a culmination of what they’ve been trying to build as a program.
“What they accomplished was because of so many that came before them,” he said.
Dahlke said that last season’s NCAA Division II title has had a big influence on the team’s determination and mindset this year.
“It’s a contagious feeling,” Dahlke said. “It’s not a feeling that you want to experience just one time. You want to feel it every time you step out onto the baseball field.”
The 2019 baseball squad and defending national champions are ranked first in the opening edition of the National Collegiate Baseball Central Region Poll, with a decisive 6-of-10 first place votes. Nationally, the Vikings moved into a tie for second place with West Texas A&M.
With the Florida College Baseball Invitational starting on March 7th, Huber said that the sheer number of innings in the seven varsity games scheduled across seven days provides the coaching staff the ultimate ability to explore the team’s strengths and find talent that may not initially be recognized, as he plans to play many different players, and put a variety of different pitchers on the mound.
Notably, the team returns 58-game starter and sophomore infielder Ryan Nickel, redshirt sophomore infielder Aiden Ladd and 2018 NSIC Gold Glove Team members and juniors Sam Baier and Riley Johnson, who play infielder and outfielder, respectively. Senior outfielder Michael Svozil, who stole a record of 41 bases in 2018, and senior Lucas Wylie, double-digit home run hitter and catcher, are also returning.
Right now, Huber is looking toward the three-game series in Springfield, Missouri, this weekend against the 5-5 Drury College Panthers as the next step on the road to the national championship.
“We love the way winning that national championship felt, and we’re going to do everything we can to get back and compete for it again,” he said.
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