BASEBALL: Young Beavers set to open season on spring trip to Arizona this weekend
BEMIDJI — A season after sneaking into the NSIC baseball tournament and making a surprise run to the title game, Tim Bellew thinks the bar has been raised for his Bemidji State baseball program.
But with a slew of newcomers on this years’ squad — 22, to be exact — nothing is a given for the Beavers this year.
“I think the last two years have moved us up the pedestal a little bit,” Bellew said. “For me to say we’re going to have the same season, I don’t know if I think that but, on the other hand I’m not saying it couldn’t happen.
“But I told the guys the other day, I think we can get to the last week of the season and have a shot, so let’s see what happens. We have lots of young talent.”
BSU opens the season Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., against Malone University, the start of a 10-game, eight-day spring trip to Arizona.
The Beavers finished 25-22 overall and 13-13 in conference play, earning the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament. They made it all the way to the conference finals but lost to eventual national runners-up Minnesota State Mankato.
It was a nice run fueled in part by All-American first baseman Logan Kalis as well as shortstop Lewis Baumann, outfielder Trevor Purvis and catcher Zach Braun — all three NSIC selections — and third baseman Matt Ellinghuysen — now the team’s assistant coach.
But all but Braun are gone and just four starters return from last year’s campaign.
Braun — who hit .352 and had 24 RBIs in 2013 — said he thinks the Beavers have the talent to get back into the tournament, but it’s still unproven.
“We have the same expectations: to get as far as we did,” Braun said. “We have a lot of young guys who need to come in and prove themselves. It’s a lot of promising talent. We have a lot of newer guys to college ball, but a lot of talent.”
Returning starters for this year are Braun behind the plate as well as senior centerfielder Chad Hansen. Sophomore Joey Hanowski, who started 20 games in left field as a freshman and also played second and first base, will be in left field to start the season.
Outfielder Cole Bjorge, who has seen limited playing time at BSU due to injury, will start in right field.
Senior pitcher Miles Campbell started in six games on the mound and threw 43.2 innings with an ERA of 4.12.
“We have a lot of new guys,” said Bellew, the 2013 NSIC Coach of the Year. “But we have a lot of competition at each position. Quite honestly our two-deep is pretty good and at most positions we could be three-deep and be decent.”
The key, Bellew and the rest of the Beavers agree — getting outside and playing some real games.
The Beavers have been cooped up inside the John Glas Field House all winter and haven’t seen live pitching outdoors yet this season.
Getting the 22-some newcomers (including 18 freshmen) adjusted to the college game will take time.
“We might go through our lumps right away,” Hanowski said. “I mean, we have half the team playing their first college games this week. But as skip emphasized, each game we need to get better.”
“That veteran team we had last year also took us a while to heat up,” junior pitcher Tyler Saeugling said. “I mean, it’s a good conference and everyone else is going to be battling.
“Skip has said it’s not a rebuild season. We have a good group of seniors who have set the bar and pushed a new path for BSU baseball. We’re young but by conference play we should be as experienced as anybody else.”
The Beavers are also hoping Mother Nature cooperates with them. Last season they didn’t play a home game until May 1 — the last week of the regular season.
This season their home opener is set for April 9 against Wayne State.
“It’d be nice to come back and see a lot of green,” Braun said. “I mean, I think we’re going to end up shoveling the field but we’d rather do it and get on the field as fast as we can.”