Tough road ahead: 10-game win streak on the line for baseball team

Brayden Byers, Sports Reporter

The gauntlet begins.

The South Dakota State Baseball team is heading into its toughest stretch of the season, matching up against two Big Ten opponents and the top team in the Summit League, all on the road.

“If you’re going to have a stretch like this, you want it to come when you’re playing well,” coach Rob Bishop said.

The Jackrabbits are well prepared, having won 10 straight games heading into their tilt against the Cornhuskers (21-14-1, 7-5), matching the longest winning streak in the Division I era.

This will be the 21st meeting between the Huskers and the Jacks. Nebraska has the overwhelming 18-2 advantage in the series, taking 11 straight against SDSU, dating back to 1971.

The last time these two schools faced off in baseball was March 13, 2012, 11 years ago. That game, which was a 12-3 win for Nebraska, was also in Lincoln.

The Huskers are a tough matchup for SDSU. They are one of six teams nationally to be ranked in the top 50 in batting average, earned run average and fielding percentage. They are also one of two teams in the country to feature two starters who are hitting at least .400 joining Virginia.

Junior infielder Brice Matthews is hitting .409 with 10 doubles, two triples, 14 homers, 54 RBI and 44 runs, while Max Anderson is adding 13 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 46 RBI and 29 runs with a .407 hitting clip.

The Jacks also have some firepower under its belt. Senior catcher Ryan McDonald is still batting over .400 after having what would be considered an off week for him. That off week included a walk-off single to give the Jacks a series sweep against St. Thomas Monday.

“You get bases loaded one down and Mack at the plate. I don’t know how you could feel any better about your chances at that point,” Bishop said.

The Jacks then continue down the Midwest as they make their way to Tulsa for a three-game weekend series against league-leading Oral Roberts.

The Golden Eagles (19-11, 14-1) sit four games ahead of the Jackrabbits heading into this week of conference play. Junior outfielder Jonah Cox had an excellent week, going 7-for-14 with three home runs and four RBI in a couple of wins over NDSU. That and pushing his hitting streak to an incredible 24 games earned him the Summit League Peak Performer of the Week.

“I mean, we’re playing the number one team, and you know if we want to have an opportunity to be playing the last two weekends to win a regular-season championship, we’re gonna have to play well this weekend,” Bishop said.

ORU boasts the league’s best pitching staff posting a 4.14 earned run average. This is compared to SDSU’s second-best ERA, sitting at 6.25 on the season. The Eagles also have a tough midweek test matching up with in-state foe, Oklahoma, Wednesday.

As mentioned before, the Jacks are currently on a run of 10 wins straight, which matches a program record. They extended that streak by sweeping St. Thomas Sunday and Monday.

In game one of the twin bill on Sunday, the Jackrabbits held a 5-0 lead through two innings. The bullpen came up huge for SDSU holding the Tommies’ comeback hopes to get the 8-5 win.

In the second game, Jake Goble and Brady Hawkins combined for a three-hit shutout to get the win 7-0.

“The last two weekends you know your sweep back-to-back conference series and the common denominator has been our starters have gotten deep into the game all six games,” Bishop said. “So, it isn’t rocket science … we’re being able to use our bullpen appropriately and in the right order.”

Goble, the sophomore pitcher, went seven of the shutout innings in game two allowing just three hits and striking out five batters without a walk. That performance got him named Summit League Peak Pitcher of the Week.

“Yeah, I mean, Jake, when he’s just pounding the strike zone, and being really aggressive, he has a lot of movement on the ball,” said Bishop. “He has really good stuff just naturally, so when he has had just a really simple competitive approach, he’s really good.”

Game three of the series was a pitcher’s duel, coming down to the bottom of the ninth inning in which McDonald walked it off with bases loaded for a 2-1 final.

Wednesday’s game against Nebraska can be seen on Nebraska Public Media and heard on the Huskers Radio Network. The weekend series against Oral Roberts will be broadcast on the ORU Sports Network.