Of the 10 games played in eight days by the Minot State University baseball team, three games stick out, and in a good way.
The Beavers finished 5-5 at the Tucson (Ariz.) Invitational (March 9-16) and further proved to themselves they can compete in their first season in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
After dropping the trip's first game against non-conference opponent Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.), MSU rattled off a three-game sweep of NSIC foe Southwest Minnesota State. The wins and losses do not count toward either team's conference record, but may be a sign that the Beavers are better than the 14th out of 15 projection in the preseason coaches' poll.
Minot State University third baseman A.J. Begay dives to field a ground ball during a game against Southwest Minnesota State last week at the Tucson (Ariz.) Invitational. Photo courtesy of MSU sports information.
"It meant a lot," MSU sophomore outfielder Andrew Roach said. "Our confidence is flying pretty high right now. I feel like we can beat anybody and honestly I think we can."
SMSU was picked to finish ninth in the league and the Beavers also have a win over Wayne State and two over Minnesota-Duluth, picked fifth and sixth, respectively. MSU is 8-6 overall and 6-3 against NSIC opponents in non-conference games.
"It's huge," junior pitcher Matthew Davis said. "It's preseason, but we're sending a message off the get-go."
MSU coach Brock Weppler echoed the optimism about the team's early play because of the way the players have responded in a variety of situations. Each win over SMSU in Arizona was closely contested with scores of 6-4, 3-1 and 13-11.
"The thing I like the most is we've got a lot of fight," Weppler said. "We've definitely showed we can battle and put up runs."
The runs didn't come easily throughout the tournament, but the Beavers' hits came in bunches. Wayland Baptist University (NAIA) was the victim in a 23-8 rout, which was the most runs scored in a single game by the Beavers this season and the team's largest margin of victory.
Roach and senior first baseman Mitch Olson have played major roles at the plate. Olson leads the team with a .412 batting average, 16 RBIs and eight doubles. Roach is second in batting average (.396) and doubles (4). Seven Beavers are batting above .300.
"I just felt like I was seeing my pitch," Roach said. "I tried to lay off all the breaking stuff I can and just hit the straight stuff."
First-year Beaver and Vancouver Island University transfer Davis has thrown well despite pitching in two losses in Arizona. Davis (0-3) held Dakota Wesleyan to two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings in the 4-3 loss. He struck out seven batters in that game.
"I thought we just got relaxed," Davis said. "Starting the tournament against new teams and ones we'll be facing, everyone calmed down and started throwing and let our defense play."
Weppler has also listed freshman pitcher Jesse Goertzen (2-1) as a strong option thus far.
"Matt, I think, has had a couple of tough losses where he hasn't had run support," Weppler said. "Jesse, coming in as a freshman, started out really good, struggled with command and got back up in the zone."
The Beavers struggled against NSIC member Bemidji State in two losses on the trip, but can start their first NSIC conference season with a road win against Concordia-St. Paul (7-5) this weekend. The teams play doubleheaders starting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday.