Twelve seniors on the UND baseball team will begin their final campaign in green and white jerseys this weekend — and their season opener may be the toughest of their careers.
North Dakota will begin its 2015 season on the road Feb. 13-15 against an Arkansas team that has found itself in the NCAA tournament for the past 13 seasons and garnered a No. 16 national ranking this year.
Looking back on the Razorbacks’ 40-25 record last season may be daunting. But UND’s veteran lineup has proved its capability in settling in and making strides forward.
“It’s without a doubt, probably the best league, best conference for college baseball in the nation,” UND coach Jeff Dodson said. “For us to play a team of that caliber right out of the gate, it’s going to be fast paced. It’s a transition we’re going to have to get through really quickly, but I feel like with 12 seniors, we’ll be able to close the gap a little bit quicker than maybe in years past.”
The three-game series will be more than a tough test for North Dakota’s lineup. It will be a challenge in the national spotlight.
“I think the biggest thing for us is guys getting to go compete,” Dodson said. “We’ve got a chance to be on the national stage and show what our club can do, and also find out some things we’ve got to work on. If we ever get to NCAA postseason play, we’re going to have to beat teams like Arkansas. So we want to go get used to it now and try and find out what our guys can do.”
After the team’s seniors finish their careers, new faces will join the lineup.
Last Wednesday, Dodson announced six commitments set to enroll at UND this fall: Tyler Berg, Jack Collins, Joe Fredrickson, Grant Larson Hayden May and Connor Moroder.
Berg, a right-handed outfielder, hails from St. Michael-Albertville High School in Minnesota and wore a captain’s “C” on his chest for both the baseball and football team.
“We feel very fortunate to get him in,” Dodson said. “We were losing a lot of pop in our lineup this year, and going into next season, we feel like Tyler is going to be a guy that can come in and make an impact as a freshman.”
A Wisconsin native, Collins is a left-handed pitcher Dodson feels has the potential to create swings and misses at the Division I level.
“We’re going to put him out there early, and see what he can do,” Dodson said.
Fredrickson will take a spot on the lineup as a right-handed infielder. He is from Arden Hills, Minn., and helped his Mounds View High School team notch a championship last year while hitting .344.
His abilities also resonate off the field.
“We’re excited about Joe for his leadership capabilities, as well as being a good player,” Dodson said. “We feel like he is a going to be a definite contributor as well … I fully expect big things from him.”
Larson is familiar with North Dakota territory. As a Minot native, Larson is a left-handed first baseman who is expected to be an impact player in the lineup.
He will be added to a list of players from Minot, such as Ryan Kraugh, Mark Olson, Luke Teagle and many others.
“Him being from North Dakota, it gives him a great realization of what baseball is like in this area,” Dodson said. “He was a very good high school player, and he played for his dad as well. He’s continuing a long line of players from Minot, N.D., that have played here at UND. We think he also has a chance to contribute as a freshman.”
May is a right-handed catcher from Tucson, Ariz., though he may be suitable for another spot. Six of his teammates also signed Division I scholarships.
“He’s very versatile, so he can play several different positions for us,” Dodson said. “We feel like we want to start him behind the plate and see where he goes from there. Once again, his leadership is off the charts, and we’re thrilled to have him come in and be a part of our program.”
Left-handed third baseman Moroder, unlike his future teammates, doesn’t play high school baseball. But his experience during the summer in Wisconsin has given him abilities the roster may be lacking with departing seniors.
“He has a really strong arm and he’s very good side to side, great lateral movement and he’s a great left-handed hitter,” Dodson said. “We feel like Connor will be able to come in and add a really be a really big part of our lineup next year.”
But before six new players step on to the field, a dozen seniors will lead UND into a new season.
North Dakota was picked ninth in the Western Athletic Conference and will begin its second season in league play on March 20. Before then, a lengthy schedule on the road awaits the team largely influenced by its seniors.
“Every year, you see a guy or two figure it out, and all of our seniors this year have figured it out,” Dodson said. “They’ve really have been infectious on our club and we’re better in the weight room than we every have been. We’ve established our highest grade point average at 3.33 that we’ve ever had, and it all revolves around our seniors.
“All the things we’re doing right now are directly related to them. I think they’re feeling this is their last shot for college baseball. This is their last season. They want to go out with a winning note, and we’re very excited to have that caliber of kids in our program.”
Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]