No Place Like Home


Sports Editor

If they have to, they will … play at home, that is.

SDSU, after 24 straight games away from Brookings, after two scheduled home games were moved due to poor field conditions, finally played as scheduled at Erv Huether Field.

In a 12-3 win over NAIA Dakota Wesleyan, the Jacks (15-10) cranked six extra base hits, struck out 12 Tigers hitters and played error-free defense on the way to a fourth-straight home-opening win and the 12th win in the last 13 games.

“It was kind of a jolt of energy,” said Jacks head coach Ritchie Price.

The reasons for that are easy to find. SDSU’s traveled by bus to every road series this season and arrived back in Brookings from Macomb, Ill. at 2 a.m. the previous night. That is, fresh off four games played in a three-day span.

That meant an exhausted bullpen and a need for a quality start from starter Shane Kraemer. He went six innings, struck out 10 – a career-high – and left the game with a six-run cushion.

Offensively, five players had multi-hit games, and despite no home runs, five players totaled at least one double. Six, seven, eight hitters Jesse Sawyer, Daniel Telford, and Andrew Melton went 8-for-12 cumulatively with 5 RBI’s in SDSU’s third-straight game with 10+ hits.

“Out bats are starting to come around,” said third baseman Jesse Sawyer, who set the SDSU all-time career home run record against Western Illinois Apr. 10. “We’re coming into conference play so we’ve got to keep that going.”

Any hopes for an upset bid for the Tigers, who entered losers of 10 straight by a combined 70 runs, were slim but still alive even in the later innings. With a 9-3 lead in the eight inning, SDSU was in control but not insurmountably ahead, as has been the case with games against lower-level foes. The Jacks beat NAIA squads Sioux Falls and Mount Marty College by six and five runs respectively earlier this season.

But the Jacks played cleanly defensively – a contrast to the team’s showings at times (SDSU started the season with 15 errors in their first four games) – and playing fundamentally sound (Billy Stitz’ bunt single in the seventh inning stopped an inch from the chalk in fair territory).

Not that a 12-3 win is a close contest, but SDSU left 12 men on base while the Tigers were without an extra base hit and never threatened despite a 1-0 lead after one. But besides winning, the Jacks’ main objective was giving some players rest before a four-game series against conference opponent Centenary this weekend. Six innings from Kraemer and a three-inning save from Deon Entringer helped make that happen.

“We’re definitely playing better baseball,” Price said. “We played some really good teams early that made us better before getting into conference.”

That includes a 10-game homestand against NDSU, Oakland and Southern Utah before heading back on the road.

SDSU will finish out its conference slate largely at home. After May 17, the Jacks will be home for good with the Summit League tournament taking place in Sioux Falls.

If there’s a time to make a move in the conference standings, SDSU thinks it’s now.

“This weekend’s a big series, if we can win that series (Centenary) we think we’re in the driver’s seat,” Price said. “And we can control our destiny at home for the most part.