Baseball heads to Alabama for four-game series
The South Dakota State University baseball team will return to the Deep South this weekend, playing a four-game series at Alabama A&M.
The series kicks off with a 1 p.m. game Friday in Huntsville, Ala. A doubleheader is set for an 11 a.m. start on Saturday, with the series finale slated for a noon start on Sunday.
The Jackrabbits enter the weekend with a 2-2 overall record after splitting four games last weekend in Jackson, Miss. SDSU split two-game series against both Texas Southern and host Jackson State.
A member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Alabama A&M will be playing its second Summit League opponent of the season. The Bulldogs split a four-game home series against Fort Wayne on the opening weekend of action. Alabama A&M was scheduled to host Alabama-Birmingham in a two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday before hosting the Jackrabbits.
All games this weekend will be played at Bulldog Field.
THE SERIES: This weekend’s games will mark the first-ever contests between the Jackrabbits and Alabama A&M.
SDSU played five other SWAC opponents since the start of the 2012 season, combining to post an 8-3-1 record against Alcorn State (Miss.) (2-0), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-0-1), Jackson State (Miss.) (1-1), Mississippi Valley State (2-1) and Texas Southern (1-1).
PRESEASON POLLS: The South Dakota State University baseball team has been picked to finish second in the Summit League regular season race, according to a poll conducted among the league’s coaches that was announced on Feb. 6
The Jackrabbits, 35-24 overall last year, turned in a runner-up finish during Summit League regular season play during the 2013 season with a 16-12 record. SDSU went on to claim its first Summit League postseason tournament title last season to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time at the Division I level.
Defending regular season champion Omaha received three first-place votes to claim the top spot in the 2014 preseason poll. SDSU received one first-place vote to garner its second-place projection. North Dakota State was third, followed by Western Illinois in fourth despite receiving a first-place vote. Fort Wayne rounded out the five-team field.
Summit League play begins March 28, when the Jackrabbits travel to Western Illinois for a doubleheader. The 24-game league schedule concludes May 17, followed by the four-team Summit League Baseball Championship May 22-24, which SDSU will host.
MOORE ON PRESEASON RADAR: Jackrabbit relief pitcher J.D. Moore has been named Summit League Preseason Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
A junior from Mississauga, Ontario, Moore set a Jackrabbit single-season school record with 13 saves in helping lead the Jackrabbits to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level in 2013. He struck out 38 batters in 31.2 innings and posted a 1.99 earned run average, while limiting the opposition to a .175 batting average.
Collegiate Baseball Newspaper also named senior first baseman Aaron Machbitz, sophomore outfielder Paul Jacobson and junior pitchers Adam Bray and Chris Anderson as Jackrabbit players to watch this year.
In addition, Moore is one of 50 relief pitchers named to the initial watch list for the 10th annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award. He is one of 17 players on the list who tallied at least 12 saves a season ago.
The watch list will be updated the week of April 21, with finalists named on June 4. The winner of the award will be announced during the 2014 College World Series.
LAST WEEK: The Jackrabbits opened the season by splitting four games in Jackson, Miss. SDSU outscored the opposition 21-3 in its two wins over Texas Southern and Jackson State (Miss.), while also dropping a pair of one-run games to the same squads.
BRAY HONORED: South Dakota State University right-hander Adam Bray has been named Summit League Pitcher of the Week after leading the Jackrabbits to a season-opening win over Texas Southern on Feb. 14.
A junior from Eden Prairie, Minn., Bray limited the Tigers to a run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings in an 11-1 SDSU win on Feb. 14. Bray, who retired the first nine batters he faced, struck out six and did not walk a batter in upping his career record to 11-5.
PITCHING PROWESS: Although they finished with only a 2-2 record, Jackrabbit pitchers combined to put up some impressive numbers during the opening weekend of play.
As a staff, SDSU pitchers compiled a 1.29 team earned run average in 35 innings of work and held opponents to a .157 batting average (18-of-115) in the four games versus Jackson State and Texas Southern. In addition, Jackabbit pitchers struck out 21 batters and walked only four.
Ten different Jackrabbits pitched at least one inning, including newcomers Chris Anderson and Ethan Kenkel. Tyler Shannon also made his first career pitching appearance for SDSU, after playing infield during the 2013 campaign.
MACHBITZ OFF TO FAST START: Senior first baseman Aaron Machbitz started the season strong both at the plate and in the field for the Jackrabbits in the opening week of action.
A native of Dallas, Texas, Machbitz hit safely in all four games, posting a .375 batting average (6-for-16), driving in seven runs and compiling an .875 slugging percentage on the strength of two doubles and two home runs. Both of his home runs came in SDSU’s 10-2 win over Jackson State (Miss.) on Feb. 15, marking the first multi-home run game of his career and first by a Jackrabbit since Daniel Telford hit a pair of home runs in the second game of a doubleheader April 12, 2013, at Fort Wayne.
Machbitz also did not commit an error in 37 total defensive chances, recording 36 putouts and one assist. He upped his career putouts total to 866, good for fifth in program history. Joel Blake, who played from 2009-11, is fourth in career putouts with 908.
BIG TURNAROUND: The 2013 Jackrabbit baseball team recorded the biggest turnaround in program history, nearly doubling its win total from the previous season.
In 2012, South Dakota State finished with an 18-33-1 record in Dave Schrage’s inaugural season as head coach, missing the Summit League Baseball Championship for the first time since the program became eligible for postseason consideration in 2009. The 2013 edition of the Jackrabbits compiled a 35-24 record to finish with 17 more wins, surpassing the 14-win turnaround between the 1972 (5-14) and 1973 (19-14) squads.
COACH SCHRAGE: Veteran baseball coach Dave Schrage (pronounced Schrag) enters his 26th season as a collegiate head coach — and third at South Dakota State University — during the 2014 season. Schrage was hired to take over the reins of the Jackrabbit baseball program on Aug. 8, 2011.
After posting an 18-33-1 record in his first season at South Dakota State, including a 7-14 mark in The Summit League, Schrage directed a big turnaround in 2013, leading SDSU its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament at the Division I level. The Jackrabbits, who ended the season with a 35-24 overall record last season, won four consecutive games to claim their inaugural Summit League postseason tournament title and advance to the Eugene Regional of the NCAA Tournament, where they were edged in a pair of one-run games.
Schrage enters the weekend with a 651-721-2 career mark, including a 55-59-1 record at SDSU. He recorded his 600th career victory on March 19, 2012, when the Jackrabbits posted an 11-8 victory at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Now in his 26th season as a collegiate head coach, he has averaged more than 25 victories per season, including six campaigns with 32 or more wins. He has coached players who have earned all-conference honors 64 times and 40 of his former student-athletes have gone on to play professionally, including Layne Somsen and Stephen Bougher from the Jackrabbits’ 2013 squad.
THE ROSTER: The 2014 SDSU baseball roster features 36 players from 12 different states plus three Canadian provinces. Of the 36 players, nine are from Iowa, six are from South Dakota, five are from Illinois and four hail from Minnesota. Two Jackrabbit players are from Colorado, while Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Vermontare represented by one player each. In addition, three players are from Canada — one each from Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
By class, six are seniors, 13 are juniors, eight are sophomores, one is a redshirt freshman and eight are true freshmen.
A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits continue their run of games south of the Mason-Dixon Line with a three-game series Feb. 28-March 2 at fellow 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifier Texas-San Antonio. The series opener is slated for 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, followed by a 2 p.m. contest on Saturday, March 1. The series finale is set for a noon first pitch on Sunday, March 2.