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New coach? New team? No problem so far for Bison baseball

Bison off to 15-8 start including smashing Summit League sweep of Northern Colorado.

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Cade Feeney is one of three regular returning starting pitchers for North Dakota State.
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.

FARGO — The head baseball coach left and took with him the memory of a school-record for wins in a season at North Dakota State. The well wasn’t dry, however, and so far the Bison are on pace for another banner season.

In one sense, they’re knocking the first half of the schedule out of the park. A 15-8 record — all on the road — has been accented by 31 home runs. Ten of those are by catcher Logan Williams including two grand slams in one game in a convincing weekend sweep at Northern Colorado over the weekend.

“Greeley plays a little more offensive, balls fly out of there, but you still have to hit it,” said Bison head coach Tyler Oakes, in reference to UNC’s home city. “The guys are doing a good job of finding pitches they can handle.”

NDSU beat UNC by a combined score of 44-9. For their reward, the Bison didn’t get back to Fargo until 6:30 Monday morning because of bus issues.

“It’s always an adventure in some regard,” Oakes said.

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The adventure so far includes wins at Minnesota, Long Beach State and Florida Atlantic. And it’s not all because of the long ball, either.

The Bison are ninth in the country in sacrifice bunts, 30th in stolen bases and return starting pitchers Max Loven, Cade Feeney and Evan Sankey.

“That makes me sleep better at night,” Oakes said. “The pitching side has been really good and I don’t think we’ve seen the best from these starters either. I think the best is ahead of them.”

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North Dakota State head coach Tyler Oakes is continuing a profession in baseball that his father started as a minor league assistant. NDSU Athletics photo

Junior Tristen Roehrich has been effective in relief with a 3-1 record and a 1.99 earned run average. Jake Drew hasn’t given up a run in eight appearances.

Lost from last year were the likes of standout shortstop Bennett Hostetler and pitchers Parker Harm and Zach Smith. Hostetler hit .394 with 10 home runs and was an 18th-round draft pick of the Miami Marlins. Harm signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent. Also gone was head coach Tod Brown, who accepted the head coaching position at the University of New Mexico.

Oakes is in his first year as a head coach.

“I felt good about it,” he said. “We lost some guys but we had a good core coming back, guys that had been on a Summit championship team and played in the regional.”

NDSU is at Western Illinois for a three-game series this weekend and the home opener isn’t until April 8 against St. Thomas, which is probably a good thing considering the 10-day weather forecast.

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That is preceded by another trip to Minnesota. The Bison defeated the Gophers 5-2 earlier this month at U.S. Bank Stadium. A competitive three-game series at Long Beach State included a 5-4 win.

“It shows we can play with anybody across the country,” Oakes said. “A lot of our guys are stereotyped from a northern program and the guys play with that chip on their shoulder and want to show we have a lot of talented guys. When we play with that competitiveness and edge, that’s when we get our best baseball. Those types of wins show we have the resources here to play with those teams in those environments. Every time we take the field, our expectation is we’re going to play highly competitively.”

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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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