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It's been magical season for Bison baseball, yet the road beckons again

NDSU will take No. 1 seed into Summit tournament that is played at site of 2021 regular season champion

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North Dakota State pitcher Evan Sankey has been one of three reliable starters for the Bison all season.
NDSU Athletics photo
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FARGO — The Summit League and how it operates its postseason baseball format is nothing new to Tyler Oakes. The first-year North Dakota State head coach was a Bison assistant since 2014 before taking over this year.

But he got a view from the top chair of the reality of it. NDSU won the conference’s regular-season title with an almost magical season that included playing nearly all of its games away from home. The Bison finished 17-5 in league play, percentage points ahead of second place Oral Roberts, and will take the top seed for the first time in program history into the Summit tournament.

Yet, the Bison were in Tulsa on Tuesday getting a practice in before the tourney begins Wednesday at J.L. Johnson Stadium. The Summit holds its postseason tourney at the home of the previous season’s regular-season champion.

NDSU, despite also being the defending tournament champions, will again be in hotel rooms this week. The Bison had seven home games in a 30-17 season.

“The reward is you get to host it the following year, which we’re looking forward to,” said Bison head coach Tyler Oakes. “But, yeah, it’s one of the rare things that’s going on.”

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Oakes said the Summit is one of a few leagues in Division I that doesn’t play the tournament at a neutral site.

Home or away, the Bison will throw a complete team at the field with a notable combination of speed, power and steady pitching.

NDSU set a single-season record for stolen bases with 82. Sophomore Cadyn Schwabe finished fourth in the league with 17, which ranks ninth all-time in the team list. On the power grid, they hit 46 home runs, led by Logan Williams’ 11, which tied for the conference lead.

“That’s a big part of our team, we can be dynamic on offense and beat teams in different ways,” Oakes said. “We have guys up and down the lineup that I think can beat you and there's not a guy you can stay away from.”

Eight players were named to the all-League first or second team, led by Calen Schwabe and Williams on the first unit. Oakes was named the league’s coach of the year.

And the Bison have had the luxury of a steady starting trio of Max Loven, Cade Feeney and Evan Sankey with a bullpen that’s been solid and reliable. NDSU was 23-1 when leading after six innings.

That group is led by middle reliever Tristen Roehrich, a junior from West Fargo, and closer Jake Drew, a senior from Alexandria, Minn.

“Our starters have been good enough to keep us in games, not great by any means, but good,” Oakes said, “and they can get it to the key guys in our bullpen.”

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NDSU opens against No. 4 seed Omaha at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday. It wasn’t exactly a decisive series win when the Bison took two of three from the Mavericks, winning 1-0 and 2-0 and losing 10-2 in mid-April. That was in Omaha.

This will be fought on neutral ground; almost 400 miles south of that.

“It will be tough, we don’t win pretty all the time,” Oakes said. “It’s the kind of group that has shown some toughness and resiliency with all the stuff they’ve had to deal with. This group keeps surprising me along the way.”

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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