The Augustana men’s baseball team kicked off their season with a three-game invitational in Houston, Texas, Feb. 11-13.
Ranked No. 21, the Vikings’ first game was against No. 19 Arkansas-Tech, and the Vikings fell 3-2. They were able to get a run in on the bottom of the third via a throwing error by Arkansas’ third baseman. Senior Tony Lanier scored after, singling earlier in the inning. Their final run came in the bottom of the eighth by senior Jordan Barth.
The Vikings’ second game was a complete turnaround, winning 13-4 against Arkansas-Monticello. Senior Seth Miller walked up to the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning and was credited the overall win after pitching two innings. Evan Furst took over after Miller and struck out four batters in the final two innings and earned the save. Junior Ryan Jares started and struck out six over five innings and gave up one earned run.
“It was a fun game, and it felt good to win that game especially after the first loss,” Jares said. “The whole weekend never felt like there was one player carrying the team, it was definitely a team effort.”
Their final game against No. 3 Central Missouri was another win for the Vikings with a score of 6-5. It was a tight game between both teams with Augustana pulling ahead in the first three innings, then Missouri taking the lead into the next two. Augustana was able to tie the game in the top of the seventh. With no runs in the eighth, Augustana’s sophomore Jason Axelberg scored the game winning run for the Vikings via an RBI single from senior JT Mix.
“My preparation to be at bat is to think simple and find a way to get on base and put pressure on,” Axelberg said. “I was able to wear a pitch and get on base, then the next pitch [to] advance on a ball in the dirt. I was then moved to a third on a ground ball and later scored on a single from JT.”
Mix’s plays throughout the tournament were not left unnoticed. He batted with a .308 with five RBIs, stole two bases and scored a run over the weekend. Following the tournament, he was announced as the NSIC Player of the Week.
“It was a little unexpected because I wasn’t necessarily thinking about it,” Mix said. “It always feels good to know you made a difference in helping the team win.”
The difference in performance was also shown in the rest of the players by their turnaround games following the first loss. The players noticed the underperformance from the first game and decided that they could bounce back from it.
“It puts in your head a little, ‘Hey, we could drop a couple more and face 0-3,’ but we knew we had the talent and knew we had the ability to make a couple good statement wins,” Mix said.
This type of a season open can show the possibilities of what the rest of the season will look like, and it displays the hard work players have put in for practice and abilities to work together as a team.
“It’s always an interesting dynamic because it’s your first week of the year,” coach Tim Huber said. “You hope it sets you up for the rest of the year to be in close games and find out what it looks like to compete, whether to win or lose just be prepared for the moment.”
The Vikings will head down to Lakeland, Florida for a series against Florida Southern on March 5-6. After the series, the Vikings will head to Orlando to play six games in six days. They will get one more doubleheader against Dakota Wesleyan at home on March 15, before starting their NSIC season.