In advance of the Summit League Baseball Championships
this weekend in Sioux Falls, The Collegian caught up with third-year head coach Ritchie Price. He talked about the importance of his seniors, the uniqueness of a double-elimination tournament, and the keys to clinching a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
Q. How would you assess how your team finished the season and going into the conference tournament with the number two seed?
A. I thought we did a lot of good things to end the year. I thought we got a lot better and some of the younger guys really developed. You could see that with some of things that the freshman were able to do late in the year, beating Oral Roberts and in that game, we had freshman pitcher win the game [Kolton Emery] and a freshman hit a big home run for us [Aaron Machbitz]. We’ve got some guys who’ve developed and I feel like we’re right on the verge of playing our best baseball as we head into our most important weekend.
Q. The seniors on the team — Joel Blake, Billy Stitz, Jesse Sawyer, Blake Treinen, Trever Vermeulen, among others — have been integral for the growth of the program. How do you put their importance into words?
A. They’ve set the tone and have done so much for our team over the past few years. They’ve won big games, they’ve really put our program back on the map and they are the reason we’ve had the success we’ve had. We’ve had a good senior year and hopefully they can go out on top with a championship.
Q. Your squad gained some national attention earlier this season from Baseball America and ESPN.com. How did your team handle those situations?
A. We don’t really talk about it. When we do really good things, we try to just stay focused and move on to the next part of our season. It’s something that we haven’t really discussed. I think the guys are proud of what we’ve accomplished but we try to avoid focusing on those things.
Q. Do you think that playing at Sioux Falls Stadium will be advantage?
A. It can’t be a disadvantage. We’ve never really done it before, so I don’t really know what to expect. I know our guys are excited to play in front of a home crowd, though.
Q. The Summit League Championship is a double-elimination tournament, a style that is sort of unique to baseball. How do teams approach it differently from the regular season?
A. Well, I think you go into every game thinking that it is a must-win game, so you’re willing to do whatever you need to do with the pitching that day to make sure you win the games. That is probably the approach most teams have. With each team, I think you’ll see starters coming out of the bullpen in the middle of the game and things like that.
Q. Finally, you expect to go into the tournament to win it but what is your outlook for the tournament this weekend?
A. I think the key for us is, if we can swing the bats one-through-nine in our lineup and get contributions all the way through our batting order, that would be the key for us to get out of this tournament and win it. We need to win, obviously, to stay in the tournament and then as you get deeper into it, it will be on the hitters. For as good of a hitting yard as the Pheasants Stadium is, we’ll need to put up some runs.
No. 2 seed SDSU opens play against No. 3 seed NDSU at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Sioux Falls Stadium.