Vikings face Mankato Friday for chance at conference position
Coming off last weekend’s 2-2 split against Wayne State, only one school stands between the Augustana baseball team and the top of the NSIC: the Minnesota State University Mavericks.
The 33-18 Vikings (27-9 NSIC) started their season off hesitantly but built the reliable offensive force they now boast through consistent hitting and pitching. Head coach Tim Huber likes where his team is sitting.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” Huber said. “We’re currently second in the conference, so we have a good chance to end with a win in our regular season.”
With the majority of the team healthy and players like junior pitcher Jacob Blank and senior first baseman Kris Ashland playing their best baseball of the season, Huber is confident his team will get where it wants to be: past the 38-7 Mavericks (33-3 NSIC), to win the NSIC Tournament and automatically qualify for regionals.
“The biggest thing for us is the regional tournament,” Huber said. “Whoever wins the NSIC [tournament] gets an automatic bid to the regional—that’s our goal. These next 10 games or so are the most important of the season.”
Ashland is hopeful the Vikings’ remaining games won’t be a repeat of last year, when they lost in the NSIC tournament to Minnesota Duluth.
“It’s really do or die right now,” Ashland said. “If we continue winning, I know we can be a dangerous team heading into the conference tournament.”
The Vikings knew this weekend’s series against the Mavericks would be the most important of the season. But Ashland said he doesn’t think his teammates are nervous.
“We’re going to be playing at home, which is good for us,” he said. “The pressure is really on them. It’s going to be a fun weekend, but we know at the end of the year this is always a tough team to beat.”
Senior pitcher Ryne Lees said he thinks Mankato will be a good test to see how much the Vikings have improved over the course of the season.
“They’re a good team to measure ourself against,” Lees said. “They have depth all the way through. But I know we just need to play our game, not another team’s.”
Given their large senior class, the Vikings look to have the experience needed to reach that next level and earn a spot in the regional. But it isn’t just the seniors making waves. A number of underclassmen have become regulars on the starting roster.
“We have a lot of old guys but also a lot of new faces,” Ashland said. “This year has been different than any other year with a lot of pleasant surprises. It’s good for the team, and it’s good for next year—we’re not rebuilding, just reloading.”
But before next year happens, the Vikings want to make this year memorable. Huber is sure his team can do just that.
“The guys seem to be playing confident,” Huber said. “We need to keep up that momentum and just keep playing with that level of confidence.”