Vikings picked for second in preseason baseball poll

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ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's hard to think about baseball after the extreme cold weather this winter has brought along with the recent big snowfall, but the 2014 season is right around the corner.

The 2014 UMAC Baseball Coaches' Poll was released Monday and Bethany, who received three first place votes, is selected to finish second behind St. Scholastica. Northwestern and Martin Luther round out the top half of the poll.

2014 UMAC Baseball Coaches' Poll
1. 47 Points - College of St. Scholastica (5 First Place Votes)
2. 45 Points - Bethany Lutheran College (3)
3. 34 Points - University of Northwestern (Minn.)
4. 33 Points – Martin Luther College
5. 24 Points – University of Minnesota Morris
6. 20 Points – Northland College
7. 13 Points – Crown College
8. 8 Points – North Central University (Minn.)

Here's Bethany's 2014 outlook:

2. Bethany Lutheran College Vikings
2013 Overall Record: 14-16
2013 UMAC Record: 10-4
2013 UMAC Finish: T-2nd
Starters Returning: 7
Starters Lost: 2

A strong contingent returns to the Bethany baseball team as it looks to return to the UMAC Postseason Tournament for the ninth straight season. The Vikings had seven players named to the All-UMAC Team last season and six of them return in 2014 including conference Pitcher of the Year Cory Ferm, who did not allow a single earned run in conference play.

In the infield, three of the four starters are back including First Team All-Conference selection Joe Tuholsky at second base. The lead-off batter hit .516 in conference play. The left side of the infield returns in Dylan Gass at third base and Mitch Sellers at shortstop, both of whom were All-Conference Honorable Mention.

The outfield will be led by All-Conference member Adam Geiger. The junior batted .352 last season, a year after garnering Rookie of the Year honors. Lucas Herd returns in center field and newcomer Blake Kerzich is expected to take the right field spot.

Ferm will, of course, be the leader of the pitching staff. James Dean will look to have a bounce back season following Tommy John Surgery. Newcomer T.J. Nowak should be a solid addition to the staff. He went 6-1 for Rochester CC and also pitched for the Duluth Huskies of the Northwoods League.

The Vikings start the season with a 12-game spring training trip to Tucson, Ariz. beginning March 8. The home opener is scheduled for March 28 against Northwestern.

Here's how the rest of the conference stacks up:

1. College of St. Scholastica Saints
2013 Overall Record: 29-11
2013 UMAC Record: 14-0
2013 UMAC Finish: 1st
Starters Returning: 9
Starters Lost: 6

The St. Scholastica baseball team extended its streak of NCAA Regional Tournament appearances to nine and won its 17th consecutive UMAC regular season title and 16th straight UMAC Tournament championship in 2013. For the first time, the Saints did not play a single regular season home game at Wade Stadium as the prolonged winter kept the Saints away from home. The UMAC regular season schedule was also reduced from 21 games to 14 games due to the weather. However, it did not matter as the Saints went 14-0 in league play during the regular season. In the end the loss of those seven conference games hurt CSS's chances of a 15th consecutive 30-win season as it fell one win short with a 29-11 record. The Saints will ride a 46-game regular season conference winning streak into this season.

As Head Coach Corey Kemp describes, this group will be different than previous Saints teams and in his words that is not a bad thing. The Saints lost All-Region performers Kyle Flagstad, Kyle Jensen and Jake Casareto, but still bring plenty of talent back. The 2013 UMAC Rookie of the Year Austin Colvard returns in the outfield. The outfield is in good shape as Padraic Getchell is also back, along with Jesse Heaton and Jordan Risse. Colvard may see more action in left field this season and Risse or Getchell in center.

The pitching staff is once again deep this season. The CSS pitching staff is coming off a tremendous NCAA Regional, in which all four games the pitchers went deep into contests and gave the Saints a chance to win. Andy Davis returns for his junior season as does Mickie Keuning. Jordan Risse, who pitched well against regional champion UW-Stevens Point is back for his sophomore campaign. Also, look to see Getchell get some starts as well as freshman Sean Imes. Senior closer Thomas Rogers also returns as he is the program record holder for saves.

The infield will see changes as three of the four positions will have new faces. Second baseman Parker Olson is the lone returner. Shortstop will be the biggest question mark entering the season for the Saints.

3. University of Northwestern Eagles
2013 Overall Record: 17-18
2013 UMAC Record: 10-4
2013 UMAC Finish: T-2nd
Starters Returning: 6
Starters Lost: 6

Lots of new faces fill the Northwestern baseball roster in 2014. Much of the power and top batting averages that came from last year's team are gone, but a large amount of the same team's pitching staff is intact. The Eagles lost all six of its .300 or better hitters from a season ago, which will force head coach Dave Hieb to get creative with his lineup.

Andy Peterson is Hieb's top returning hitter based on 2013 averages. Peterson, who will move from last year's first base position to the hot corner at third base when not on the pitcher's mound this season, hit .284 in 21 games with 11 runs batted in and a .338 slugging percentage. Aaron Rau and outfielder Taylor McMurray were right behind Peterson a year ago with both ending the season at a .274 hitting rate. Rau split time at catcher last year and only played in 17 games while McMurray had the second-most starts of any player in an Eagles uniform. McMurray, typically Northwestern's leadoff hitter throughout the 2013 campaign, is one of the most disciplined players that the Eagles offer. The now-junior took 19 walks and was on base in over a third of his plate appearances while going a perfect 8-8 in stolen bases.

With UNW's losses after last season, a collection of newcomers are expected to fill in some of those holes. The Eagles roster features four new transfers that include outfielders Braxton Lindow and Tyler Osborne along with pitchers Troy Nelson and Adam Johnson.

Speaking of pitchers, Peterson will again head a staff that posted a team ERA of 4.34 in 2013. Peterson went 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA, throwing five complete games in nine starts. Peterson, a UMAC All-Conference honoree, had top 10 marks in the UMAC in innings pitched, strikeouts and earned run rate before pitching for the Mankato Moondogs in the final month of their Northwoods League schedule. Both Nelson and Johnson are expected to be in the Northwestern starting rotation.

4. Martin Luther College Knights
2013 Overall Record: 14-12
2013 UMAC Record: 8-6
2013 UMAC Finish: T-4th
Starters Returning: 6
Starters Lost: 4

The Martin Luther College baseball is looking to build off last season's 14-12 season, with sights set on a return trip to the UMAC Postseason Tournament and an improved finish in the conference this season.

Leading the way towards reaching those goals will be an experienced pitching staff led by 2013 First Team All-UMAC performer Jake Ziel. Ziel finished last season with an ERA of 1.43 in six games, striking out 54 batters in 44 innings and finishing in the top ten in Division III in hits allowed per nine innings (5.32), WHIP (0.8) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.05). Andrew Nemmers and Matt Olson also return after being key contributors last season, while the Knights hope to develop solid depth behind them with youngsters James Hemmelman, Jonathan Kock, Wyatt Weimer and Travis Kretsch.

In the field, the Knights return 2013 First Team All-UMAC selection Galen Holzhueter (.333 batting average and .451 on-base percentage) at first base, but will need three new starters around the infield. Hemmelman, Olson and Weimer figure to get most of the playing time on the left side, while first-year speedster Tom Welch likely gets the first crack at second base. Aaron Stokke returns for his third straight season behind the plate, while Joe Schmudlach returns in center field with fellow seniors Joel Hering and Ziel likely manning the corner outfield spots. Nemmers and senior Ben Edmundson also figure to see time in the outfield this season.

5. University of Minnesota Morris Cougars
2013 Overall Record: 5-20
2013 UMAC Record: 3-11
2013 UMAC Finish: 6th
Starters Returning: 7
Starters Lost: 2

The Cougars baseball team will look to improve off a 5-20 record from last season as they enter the second year under Head Coach Grant Harding. The team will return many key players from last season and welcome a lot of new faces to the team which will provide position battles throughout the spring.

All-UMAC players Kylan Hill and Eric Terres will lead the team after doing so in 2013. Terres led the team in batting average and Hill had the most extra base hits. Also back is Jake Schmitz, Kyle Grote and Cody Reinke.

Harding did a lot of work to recruit many new arms to help on the mound. Leading the way will be Joey Hyde, who pitched his team to a State Championship last season. Newcomers also include Chandler Erickson and Doug Zimmel.

6. Northland College LumberJacks
2013 Overall Record: 15-14
2013 UMAC Record: 8-7
2013 UMAC Finish: T-4th
Starters Returning: 6
Starters Lost: 3

The LumberJacks come into this season after completing their first winning season since 2006. Along with their first winning season Northland was able to make an appearance in the UMAC Tournament for the second straight year. Ernie May enters his first season at the helm for Northland and looks to build on the recent success the program has seen.

Coach May had this to say about this year's club, "We are confident in our senior leadership heading into the 2014 campaign and will ask all team members to contribute in various roles throughout the season"

While the roster size has slimmed down from a season ago, the Jacks still have high quality talent across the entire field, and will look towards their five seniors to lead the team towards success. Northland also returns four of their five players who earned spots on the UMAC All-Conference team last season in Mitch Howard, Matt Lennon, Brandon Bodart, and Peter Aerts. Other LumberJacks who will play important roles this season include Colin Moberly, Dan Kollauf, Logan Schuman and Kyle Strom.

Northland welcomed in two new players this season; Dale Stafford, and Jensen Doyle. Stafford and Doyle will be put in various different positions over the course of the season and may play large roles for Northland this season.

7. Crown College Storm
2013 Overall Record: 4-21
2013 UMAC Record: 3-12
2013 UMAC Finish: 7th
Starters Returning: 3
Starters Lost: 6

In 2014, the Crown College baseball team will be relying heavily on young and unproven talent. A large freshman class will see substantial time on the field this year as Crown continues to rebuild its baseball program under Coach Mike Gmetro. This season will feature a trip to the Tucson Invitational Games over Spring Break where a lot of those new players will be counted on to make huge contributions and find their rhythm early.

The players are working hard and getting acclimated to college baseball. The team will be led by returners Steve Hartman, Truman Shetler, and Zack Sharp. Shetler is the lone returning All-Conference player and his hitting ability and defense make him a valuable part of Crown's team. Notable newcomers to this year's squad include DJ Taylor, Jake Tarver, Garrett Lawson, Matt Tate, and Ryan Denison.

8. North Central University Rams
2013 Overall Record: 1-24
2013 UMAC Record: 1-13
2013 UMAC Finish: 8th
Starters Returning: 2
Starters Lost: 8

North Central Baseball comes into their second year in the UMAC looking to climb the conference standings after winning just one league game a year ago. The roster will include key returners and a collection of additions that should give the Rams a shot at improving on their overall and UMAC win totals. Pitching depth and improved infield play should be key elements in the NCU charge to improve this season.

The Rams return sophomore Cody Van Sickle (SS/OF/P) who was among the Rams top five in batting average and RBI and recorded the Rams best ERA on the mound a year ago and was third in strikeouts. Sophomore All-UMAC honorable mention Will Rosevear returns to man third base after standing third on the team in RBI and received credit for the Rams only victory on the pitching mound.

North Central will add first year player Matt Treadwell to their line-up and he will bolster both the Rams batting order and the pitching staff. Treadwell hit .480 with 4 home runs while going 8-2 with a 3.70 ERA on the mound for Bay Area Christian High School (Texas) last year. Transfer David Babcock will also compete for time in the Rams infield and offer another solid bat after playing last season at West Hills-Coalinga Community College (Calif.).
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