Young coach leads experienced ball club

Drue Aman

Drue Aman

Like every baseball season for SDSU, it starts on the road. This season, it’s the best start in the school’s still young Division-I days. And they have beaten some big names.

SDSU, 10-6 as of March 29 and atop the Summit League standings, has beaten Air Force, Minnesota and Arkansas, a team ranked 13th in the USA TODAY/ ESPN Top 25 coaches’ poll. Statistically, the Jacks are better than last season in every aspect of the game: offense, defense and pitching.

“You look at our numbers, we’re pretty good all the way around. We’ve been throwing a lot of strikes, we’re hitting for good average and we’re catching the baseball,” said Jacks head coach Ritchie Price, who at 25 years old is the youngest head coach in Division I. “We show up every day ready to play.”

Plenty of players are having productive seasons or breakthrough years. Sophomore shortstop Eric Cain has started every game this season, leading the team in RBIs and ranking second on the team with four home runs.

He earned Summit League Player of the Week honors after hitting .471 in four games and driving in 13 runs. Junior Trever Vermeulen was awarded Summit League Pitcher of the Week and has a 0.92 ERA, while limiting hitters to a .192 batting average against him.

“We’ve won a lot of games because of our pitching staff,” said Cain, a Littleton, Colo., native. “If we’re not swinging the bat well, it’s up to our pitchers to win the game, and we feel like they can do that.”

Offensively, the Jacks have flourished, averaging nearly nine runs a game and having hit 22 home runs in the season’s first sixteen games. Seven hitters with at least 54 at-bats are hitting over .300. Eight players have at least one home run.

The leader in that category, junior Jesse Sawyer, has responded from a breakout season with another explosive year offensively, leading the team with six home runs. Sawyer, a Calgary, Alberta native, enjoys the clean-up spot in the order and the pressure coming off a record-breaking season.

“There was a little bit of pressure, but I like that,” said Sawyer, whose 19 home runs last season set a single-season team record and helped earn him Summit League First Team All-Conference honors. “I know I have to be a guy to put up some home runs, some RBIs, score some runs. I know that &- I want that role.”

The great season has happened entirely on the road and will continue that way. Except for a late-scheduled home game against Mount Marty on April 7 to make up for a cancelled game against Northern Colorado, the Jacks will play their first 27 games away from Brookings. Their first regularly scheduled home game is April 20 against Minnesota, a team they beat 6-4 in 10 innings earlier this season.

“To be honest with you, we don’t talk about it,” said Price. “We don’t talk about how long our bus trips are, we don’t make excuses, we just roll out and play each day.”