Baseball Season to Start Soon

Jamie Tanata

Jamie Tanata

South Dakota State University’s Baseball team is batting up for a better season in hopes to improve their 14-29 overall record last year.

“To be a baseball coach you have to be optimistic every season,” SDSU’s Baseball Coach Mark Ekeland said.

“We had a young group of players,” he said last season. Now after having a year of experience under their belt, “this year we expect a lot from them.”

“I thought we competed very well for a young team, we just didn’t come away really happy,” he said.

The team faced another problem last year, Ekeland said.

“We lost a lot of close games to fairly experienced teams in the conference and losing early to teams that played in the Division II championships,” he said.

Players that have been with the team for a while are also quite optimistic.

“There are a lot of new faces coming in this last year. That will make a better difference and be good for the team,” junior captain Greg Geary said.

Sophomore Ryan Greene says the returning experience will benefit the team.

“There are a lot of returning players,” he said. “We didn’t have quite the experience and this year we do.”

Ekeland has made a few changes in the team roster in hopes of better success.

“We added a lot of recruits,” he said. “We’re still not as deep in areas we’d like to be.”

Ekeland will coach the season with 11 new freshman and 10 transfer recruits totaling up to 35 players to the roster.

With a few new pitching recruits added to the Jacks’ lineup, this season offers much potential.

Junior pitcher Francisco Torres, a transfer from Nebraska Western Community College, is originally from Caracas, Venezuela.

“He’s the first international student to play here as long as I’ve been around,” said Ekelandwho has coached at SDSU 21 years.

“I feel he could be an impact for us,” he said.

Torres was not alone on his move to SDSU. Junior pitcher, Josh Elliot transferred from NCC as well.

“I haven’t seen either one throw together in competition, but it’s what they showed us in May on recruiting trips and our second week here at practice pitching and catching” Ekeland said.

Tony Peterson, sophomore in-field pitcher from Savage, Minn., will be playing for the Jacks this season after his transfer from Concordia University in St. Paul.

As for returning players to watch, Ekeland said it will be a plus if senior pitcher Collin Cantalope is healthy this season.

If he’s back in gear he will expect to see more playing time again Ekeland said.

“When he was healthy, he was a real good pitcher for us,” he said. “He beat some tough competition.”

Experience from the team will also aid in the Jacks’ anticipated baseball success.

Ekeland said Greene will probably be their starting catcher. “He’s a multi-talented player,” he said.

Geoff Bray, senior right pitcher is what Ekeland said is a “good starter and mid-reliever.”

Kasey Keller, sophomore right pitcher is another one to watch for in the upcoming season.

“He has gotten bigger and stronger. I expect him to see more innings,” he said.

Nate Huls, a senior left pitcher is what Ekeland calls the “relief specialist.”

With the Division I switch next year, Ekeland said establishing a reputation is important to potential players interested in SDSU’s baseball program.

“Players that wouldn’t give us the time of day or the ones who were polite enough to say ‘no thanks’ to us are starting to look at us differently now,” he said.

“We have something different to offer kids now than North Dakota State, USD and Augie,” Ekeland said.

“I think it will give us a recruiting advantage,” he said.

Even though SDSU will be playing against national teams, Ekeland said South Dakota has priority.

“We’ll always start here (South Dakota). I don’t think our recruiting will change much,” Ekelund said.

“We will always stay in the five-state area – starting with the best in South Dakota,” he continued.

Ekeland hopes in the future to have more scholarship money to recruit players with.

This will be the team’s last season before really competing against Division I teams, although they have one game scheduled this year with the University of Minnesota in April.

Next year after the switch, they will be able to play anyone regardless of what division. By 2006, 46 of the 56 games will be against Division I schools.

Baseball unlike many other SDSU sports play several games in a short amount of time, usually 53 games in a 2-month span.

“I’d have more games,” said Greene. “Baseball is different; you have all summer, fall and winter to practice and only two months to compete.”

Most sports spend more time practicing with the team than competing but Geary said it’s probably better.

“It makes us better and we get more used to each other and comfortable as a team,” he said.

Some may wonder how athlete’s can juggle academics with being on the road so much.

“If you miss a lot of class it gets tough, but you just have to stay on top of things,” said Ryan Hansen, senior outfielder.

Editor’s Note: Coach Ekeland has temporarily left the team due to health issues. The interim baseball coach is Jack Reynolds.