FARGO — There was never a question that Cade Feeney could bring the heat as a pitcher coming into the North Dakota State baseball program. It was the other pitches, the offspeed stuff, that perhaps needed some fine-tuning.
That mission was accomplished at warped speed.
The true freshman from Bismarck ascended to ace status in the rotation and is a major reason the Bison are still playing in June. They play host Stanford Friday at 3 p.m. CST in the first round of the four-team double-elimination Stanford Regional in Stanford, Calif. Nevada and California Irvine play in the other first round game.
Feeney was named to the all-Summit League first team as a starting pitcher posting a 7-1 record with a 3.39 earned run average. He’s throwing as hard as he did as a high school and Legion baseball pitcher last year, around 91-93 mph.
“But he figured out quickly that he just can’t overpower people all the time,” said Bison pitching coach Tyler Oakes.
Not in Division I baseball. Bringing the gas helps, certainly, but the motor can go dry in a matter of an inning if that’s all a pitcher has.
“It doesn’t matter about speed honestly,” Feeney said. “It’s about pinpoint location. If you can locate all three or four pitches that you have, then it’s going to be a good day.”
Feeney was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019 at Bismarck Century with 63 strikeouts in 35 innings. He was also a standout quarterback in football and was a difference maker in basketball.
Those three accolades equaled what his older brother, Dalton Feeney, did at Century. Dalton was the more highly recruited of the two and was a draft pick of the Detroit Tigers, but did not sign.
It promises to be a busy weekend for the Feeney family. Dalton is a senior pitcher for North Carolina State that is the No. 2 seed in the Ruston Regional at host Louisiana Tech.
“You may think about it but once you’re on the field you do your thing and perform,” Cade said of following Dalton.
It’s the sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Wolfpack. NDSU is making its first trip since 2014 and the Bison did it this year with a veteran team. Feeney was an exception.
But he was also perhaps a piece of a missing puzzle coming into the season. The Bison had an established bullpen and a few proven starting pitchers. Adding another starter was key.
“He came in advanced as a freshman but I think he’s even enhanced that since he’s been here with his ability to compete at a high level,” Oakes said. “And plus the little things that we’ve worked on. There hasn’t been wholesale changes by any means … but he’s mentally taken another step that a lot of young guys don’t take until they’re further along in their career.”
The Bison, 41-17, are seeded fourth. Stanford is the established program making its 19th tournament appearance and will be hosting a regional for the fourth straight season. All games will be aired on ESPN3.
“It’s been awesome, this group is special,” Feeney said. “The seniors have been the leaders and these guys have done a great job teaching us freshmen the ropes.”