Former Lumberjack among top rookies
GRAND FORKS - Tyler Follis wasn't a notable recruit.
It wasn't until two weeks before the school year started that anyone picked up the infielder from Bemidji High School.
"I really didn't have a whole lot of options," Follis said. "I hurt myself during my junior year and I wasn't really looked at. But (assistant coach Brian) DeVillers contacted me, said they were looking for young kids to step in the lineup and that he liked the way I was swinging. So, I went for it."
Follis walked on to the UND team and has turned out to be one of the best rookies in Division I baseball this season.
After going 4-for-5 with four RBIs on Sunday afternoon, leading the Sioux to a 10-2 victory over New York Tech at Kraft Field, Follis bumped his batting average to .385 - second nationally among Division I freshmen.
Follis only trails Miami (Ohio) freshman Matt Honchel's .387 average.
"We saw in the fall that he had very gifted hands and a very gifted swing," UND coach Jeff Dodson said. "The biggest thing I've been surprised about is that he's been able to do it on a daily basis. He's a guy who put on a lot of weight in the fall by really working hard in the weight room.
"Most of the time, you see freshmen have ups and downs and peaks and valleys. But for the most part, he's been pretty good. We talk every now and then if he does get down on himself and we say, 'Look, tomorrow is another day, try and go out and get a couple more hits.'"
The immediate emergence of Follis has been timely for UND, which found out that last year's starting shortstop, Ryan Gerber, was not going to return to school for his sophomore season.
Dodson said that even if Gerber had stayed, the Sioux would have found a way to get Follis on the field.
"Absolutely," Dodson said.
As UND finished off its first Great West Conference series win of the season on Sunday, it was no surprise that Follis again took center stage.
Follis singled in the first and doubled in the fifth. Then, he had bases-loaded, two RBI singles in both the sixth and seventh innings to help UND blow the game open.
"He struggled a few games last week," Dodson said. "But he's really come back and had some really good swings."
Only one Sioux player is within .100 points of Follis' .385 batting average - fellow rookie Jeff Campbell (.319).
"It's been going great, a lot better than I expected," said Follis, who drew UND's attention during the legion baseball season.
"I just came in here trying to listen to the coaches and trying to work hard."
After taking three of four games from New York Tech, UND moved to 12-31 overall and 6-14 in league play.
"We've had our ups and downs," Follis said. "Lately, we've been swinging the bat really well. We're turning it around, getting ready for the conference tournament. Hopefully, we'll play our best ball there."
Brad Schlossman is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald which, like the Bemidji Pioneer, is owned by Forum Communications Co.