BASEBALL: After 36 games, Beavers finally ready for home opener
BEMIDJI — Tim Bellew looked like a man who needed some rest.
The Bemidji State head baseball coach said his Beavers arrived back in Bemidji Tuesday morning at around 3 a.m. following a nearly 1,000-mile round-trip journey to Williston, N.D. – all to play a pair of NSIC doubleheaders against Minot State.
BSU won all four games to sweep the series and extend its winning streak to eight. At 11-9, they’re right in the thick of the NSIC playoff race.
“We’re all tired a little bit but I think right now we’ve put ourselves in a good position to be able to get into the playoffs,” Bellew said Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the bus arrived back in Bemidji from Williston.
Most might be catching some sleep after that long, grueling journey.
Bellew was too excited to rest – he was busy preparing the BSU baseball diamond.
After playing all 36 games on the road this season due to the extended winter, BSU will finally play its home opener today. The Beavers will take on Southwest Minnesota State in an NSIC doubleheader starting at 1 p.m.
It’s the start of a six-game homestand to close out the regular season following two months on the road. The Beavers host St. Cloud State Saturday and Sunday to close out the regular season.
“All that travel has been hard on the body,” said BSU senior shortstop Lewis Baumann. “This was unheard of this year, having just six home games. I don’t think we ever expected that.
“But we’re glad to be home. It’s nice to be able to sleep on your own bed and play the next day.”
The Beavers, 20-16 overall and 11-9 in the conference, are currently seventh in the conference standings. With the expanded 16-team conference, the top eight teams make the conference playoffs. BSU hasn’t made the NSIC playoffs since 2008.
“Having the opportunity to be playing at home in your final six games, in really meaningful games is nice,” Bellew said. “We’re in a situation where the past three years we’ve had our opportunities (to make the playoffs) but this year is our best chance. And now we’ve got the ability to play our last six games with something on the line, that’s a cool thing.”
The Beavers started the season slowly and lost nine of their first 12 conference games.
The low point was a pair of double-digit losses in a doubleheader April 20 against Upper Iowa.
“The next day, I didn’t know what to think or what to do,” Bellew said. “Nobody made any speeches or anything but I told the guys that our backs are against the wall. If they want to make the postseason, we have to start doing a lot better job.”
The Beavers won both games the next day, topping Upper Iowa 14-3 and 11-9 in extra innings, the start of their current eight-game winning streak. BSU also swept a doubleheader at Minnesota Crookston as well as both doubleheaders this weekend against Minot State in Williston.
Over that eight-game span, the BSU offense has been hot, hitting .433 as a team, getting on-base at a .461 clip and slugging .554.
Senior first baseman Jaryd Marks was named the conference’s player of the week after hitting .593 in the past six games. He had 16 hits, 10 RBIs and scored 10 runs to help the Beavers keep their streak going.
“We’ve been taking a lot of swings, and working together to hit better,” Marks said of his team’s hot streak. “Once someone starts hitting, it seems like it’s contiguous. Everyone’s getting hits.”
Baumann, whose .415 batting average is second in the NSIC and in the top 20 nationally, said the team’s eight-game streak is a result of the pitching staff and lineup playing well together – something he said didn’t happen earlier in the season. The Beavers have the top batting average in the NSIC as well as the fourth-lowest team ERA at 4.09.
“Our pitching is doing well at the same time as our hitting,” he said. “At the beginning of the year we’d have a great hitting game but the pitching wouldn’t be there, or vice versa. It’s been nice to put it all together.”
BSU’s pitching staff, which includes Marks, Logan Kalis, Phil Bray and Ryan Van Someren, has been solid during BSU’s win streak, posting a 2.24 ERA.
Bellew said Van Someren, who normally throws out of the bullpen, will get the start in the first game today.
“We’re trying to go after it and piece it together,” he said. “You play as much as we’ve played, you have to. We played six games in the last five days and now we’re getting ready to play six games in the next four days. That’s a lot of baseball.”
If the Beavers can piece together a few wins this weekend, they’ll be well on their way to a playoff berth and a shot at the NCAA tournament. That’s been the goal all along.
“That’s always the goal,” Marks said. “Last year we missed the conference tournament by one or two games.
“We need to win at least two, three games to make certain we make it. We’re 11-9 right now and playing well, so we’ve got a great shot.”