BROOKINGS – The South Dakota State baseball season starts tonight as the Jackrabbits are set to play a three-game series against Kansas at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Jackrabbits haven’t played a game in 345 days. SDSU’s 2020 season was canceled due to the Coronavirus.
SDSU went 5-12 on the season but was 3-3 in its final six games.
Head coach Rob Bishop said his team is excited to finally play another team.
“I feel like we’re as ready as we can be, we just need to get out and play. It’s been a weird year. It’s been 11 months since we’ve been on the field against another team. I think all of the teams in our situation are just ready to get out there and compete and play and get a chance to measure ourselves,” Bishop said.
SDSU will be going through COVID protocols all season long just like every other sport.
“The details of the [COVID] protocols are difficult as far as screening every day and testing and trying to do our best with social distancing. Fortunately, with baseball you’re not really jammed up against somebody very often with it not being a contact sport. We haven’t had to change a lot with what we do and we have been fortunate so far to have limited impact on our team. So practice has kind of been a getaway for the guys. It’s the one thing that’s been semi-normal,” Bishop said.
SDSU has just four seniors on its team.
Outfielder Landon Badger is the only position player that’s a senior. Tyler Olmstead, Brett Mogen and Cody Carlson are all senior pitchers.
Bishop said he is going to rely on a group of third-year sophomores to carry the team.
“We have a class of guys that would be third-year sophomores technically that have had a lot of playing time in Ryan McDonald behind the plate and [designated hitting]. Drew Beazley at first. Luke Ira sliding over to shortstop. He basically played every game his first two years at second base. Jamie Berg has a lot of experience in the outfield; so does Colton Cox. So even though we don’t have a lot of seniors, we still have a lot of guys that have a lot of experience. We’re going to rely on those guys to carry the load the front half of the season I think,” Bishop said.
Ira is the top returning hitter for the Jacks. He started 17 games last season and hit .242 with a home run and four doubles.
Beazley hit .239 with two home runs and four doubles.
Second-year freshman Adam Mazur is the leading returning starter for SDSU. He threw 20 1/3 innings with a 1-2 record and a 5.75 ERA. He gave up 20 hits and struck out 18 batters.
“It’s the same thing on the mound. Our guys with experience are not seniors. Adam Mazur started a lot for us a lot last year. He’ll pitch in that roll again. Ryan Bourassa is a new guy who transferred from Bismarck State. Fargo guy who has showed a lot of promise. Cody Carlson has been in the program for a couple years, but has never been a starter and he’ll be starting for us. So we’re going to ask those guys to step up and play a large role on our team even thought they’re relatively unexperienced at the Division I level,” Bishop said.
SDSU was picked to finish fourth in the Summit League in the preseason poll. Omaha was picked to win the league with 15 points. Oral Roberts was picked second with 14 points and North Dakota State was picked third with 10 points. SDSU got seven points and Western Illinois was picked to finish last with four points.
“We tell the guys every day, it’s not a real flashy way going about it, but we just need to play boring baseball,” Bishop said. “We just need to throw strikes, control the count from a pitching standpoint and just make routine plays and be boring on the defensive side. Just be really solid. Play catch well and do a good job from that perspective.
“I think from an offensive standpoint we’re going to need to stack good at-bats on top of good at-bats. We’re not going to be able to rely on one our two guys to carry us nor do we want to put pressure on one or two guys.
“I think we’ll be a team that is athletic and versatile. We have a lot of talent all over the diamond. The preseason conference rankings, a lot of it is about guys who are established in the league and that’s what coaches are making their estimate on and that’s exactly what it is, is an estimate. If we want to finish higher than fourth we’re just going to have to go out there and play great baseball and I have every belief that we can.”
First pitch between the Jacks and Jayhawks is set for 6:25 p.m. tonight. Saturday’s game is scheduled to start at 5:25 p.m. and Sunday’s is an early game at 8:25 a.m.