The South Dakota State University baseball team opens the second half of the Summit League season by hosting co-leader Oakland in a crucial four-game series.
The series begins with a 3 p.m. matchup Friday at Erv Huether Field. The two teams are slated to play a doubleheader starting at noon Saturday, with the series finale set for 1 p.m. Sunday.
SDSU enters the weekend with a 14-27-1 overall record, including a 3-9 mark in The Summit League. The Jackrabbits, who will wrap up a season-long nine-game homestand this weekend, are in sixth place in the league standings with 12 games to play. The top four teams in the league standings will advance to the Summit League Championships May 24-26 in Tulsa, Okla.
Oakland, meanwhile, has been the surprise team in the league. Picked to finish sixth in the Summit League preseason coaches' poll, the Golden Grizzlies have posted a 18-26 overall record and a 9-3 mark in league play to stand in a tie for the top spot in the standings with North Dakota State. Oakland has surged to the top of the league standings with a 13-1 home record, but is a combined 5-25 in games played at road and neutral sites following a 6-0 loss at Northwestern (Ill.) on Wednesday.
THE SERIES: Friday's game will mark the 16th meeting between South Dakota State and Oakland on the baseball diamond.
The Jackrabbits lead the all-time series, 12-3, since the two squads first met when SDSU joined The Summit League at the start of the 2008 season. SDSU swept a four-game series from Oakland at Erv Huether Field during the 2009 campaign and won the final three games of a four-game home series last season.
HOME COOKING: SDSU is in the midst of its longest homestand of the season — a nine-game span that features eight Summit League games.
The Jackrabbits have enjoyed a home-field advantage at Erv Huether Field since the ballpark opened in 2008. With a 5-4 home record this season, SDSU is 49-21 (.700 winning percentage) on its home field. That includes a 34-20 mark (.630) against Summit League opponents.
ROAD WARRIORS: The South Dakota State University baseball team spent the better part of the first six weeks of the season on the road.
The Jackrabbits played their first 26 games of the season away from Erv Huether Field, culminating with a trip to IPFW the first full weekend of April. Indiana marked the eighth different state in which SDSU has played a game this season, joining Kentucky, Arkansas, Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa. The Jackrabbits also are scheduled to play games in North Dakota and Utah this season and would play in Oklahoma should they qualify for the four-team Summit League postseason tournament.
SUMMIT LEAGUE RACE: The South Dakota State University baseball team has been picked to finish third by Summit League coaches, according to a preseason poll released in February.
The Jackrabbits finished behind perennial league champion Oral Roberts and Western Illinois in the poll conducted by the league's coaches. ORU received six of the seven first-place votes for 36 points, with the Fighting Leathernecks finishing second with 27 points. SDSU tallied 25 points, with North Dakota State placing fourth with 21 points.
Southern Utah received the other first-place vote in the balloting, but finished fifth with 19 points. Oakland (11 points) and IPFW (8 points) rounded out the poll.
In all, SDSU is slated to play 24 league games before the Summit League Championships May 24-26 in Tulsa, Okla.
SUMMIT LEAGUE HISTORY: The Jackrabbit baseball team has enjoyed a great deal of success since joining The Summit League at the start of the 2008 season.
In its first four seasons, SDSU increased its win total in league play each year, improving from an 8-10 campaign in 2008 to a 20-8 mark in 2011. Overall, the Jackrabbits have compiled a 67-46 record (.593 winning percentage) in Summit League regular season games.
SDSU has advanced to the championship of the Summit League postseason tournament each of the last three seasons - losing to perennial league power Oral Roberts each time. The Jackrabbits claimed the Summit League regular season title in 2010 with a 19-9 league mark, followed by a runner-up finish to ORU last season despite a 20-8 Summit League record.
PRESEASON ACCOLADES: Four Jackrabbits were named to the 2012 Preseason All-Summit League Team selected by CollegeSportsMadness.com. First-team honors went to shortstop Eric Cain and outfielder Beau Hanowski, while outfielder Andrew Phelan and pitcher Kolton Emery received second-team recognition.
A senior from Littleton, Colo., Cain has led the Jackrabbits in runs batted in each of the last two seasons, tallying a school-record 83 in 2010 and 46 during the 2011 campaign. Cain also recently special mention from Baseball America as one of the top collegiate impact players in the Midwest.
Hanowski earned first-team all-Summit League honors in 2011 after recording team bests of 49 runs scored and a .449 on-base percentage while hitting out of the leadoff spot. The Little Falls, Minn., native batted .349 with a home run and 26 RBI last season.
Hanowski suffered a shoulder injury in the March 4 game at Arkansas State and missed 14 games before returning to the lineup April 3 at Iowa.
Phelan platooned in right field for much of the 2011 campaign before earning all-tournament honors at the Summit League Baseball Championship. Slated to move to center field this season, the Littleton, Colo., native batted .333 with two home runs and 27 RBI, and added a team-high six stolen bases.
Emery solidified the back end of the Jackrabbit starting rotation in 2011, compiling a 7-1 record with a 5.09 earned run average. The Black Hawk native and graduate of Rapid City Stevens High School also ranked among the nation's leaders in fewest walks per nine innings (1.66), issuing only 14 free passes in 76 innings of work.
BOUGHER BLANKING OPPONENTS: South Dakota State right-hander Stephen Bougher has been the top starter for the Jackrabbits this season, compiling a 5-1 record with a 2.15 earned run average over his last seven starts.
Bougher began his string of success by throwing back-to-back shutouts in March, earning Summit League Pitcher of the Week honors after each outing. A junior from Papillion, Neb., Bougher fired a two-hit, seven-inning shutout in an 11-0 victory at Arkansas-Pine Bluff on March 9. In that contest, he allowed only a pair of singles and two walks, while striking out three.
One week later, March 16 at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Bougher fanned six, walked four and surrendered three singles in a nine-inning, 5-0 Jackrabbit victory.
Bougher ran his winning streak to three games March 23 at Northern Colorado and
continued his dominance by throwing eight shutout innings with a career-high eight strikeouts in the series opener April 6 at IPFW. He followed that by surrendering only one run in 7 1/3 innings at Creighton (Neb.) on April 13.
His five-game winning streak ended in SDSU's 6-1 loss to Oral Roberts on April 27.
For the season, Bougher has compiled a 5-3 record with a 2.90 ERA. He has struck out 40 and walked 28 in 59 innings.
Bougher, who is scheduled to start Friday's series opener, currently stands fifth in career games started with 31 an ranks seventh on the Jackrabbit career innings pitched chart with 194.
HEEMSTRA BACK ON THE HILL: Sophomore right-hander Marcus Heemstra suited up in his baseball uniform for the first time in 2012 during the four-game series at Northern Colorado March 23-25 after a successful run on the basketball court that included South Dakota State making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level.
Heemstra pitched two scoreless frames in his last outing, as he held the lead in the seventh and eighth innings in a 3-1 Jackrabbit victory over Minnesota on April 11.
A reserve forward, Heemstra played in 29 of the Jackrabbits' 35 games, posting averages of 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
CAIN ON CAREER CHARTS: Jackrabbit shortstop Eric Cain is rapidly moving up the career charts in a number of categories during his senior season, and is adding to one record he set during his junior campaign.
A four-year starter, Cain holds the SDSU career record for assists with 532, surpassing the previous mark of 380 set by Pat Schmidt (1992-95). His 208 games played currently rank second in program history, trailing the 216 games played by former teammate Billy Stitz from 2008-11.
Cain also ranks in the top 10 of the following seven categories:
• Walks: second with 111 (first place is Dave Lane (1983-86) with 123);
• At-Bats: second with 785 (first place is Billy Stitz (2008-11) with 914);
• Hits: third with 258 (second place is Joel Blake (2008-11) with 262);
• Triples: tied for fifth with 10 (tied with Nick Adams and Tyson Fisher (2005-08));
• Runs Batted In: tied for fifth with 169 (tied with Billy Stitz (2008-11));
• Sacrifice Flies: tied for sixth with 11 (tied with four other players);
• Total Bases: seventh with 375 (sixth place is Chris Studer (1999-2002 with 376).
PAQUETTE PACING OFFENSE: Sophomore outfielder Phil Paquette has been the most consistent performer for the Jackrabbit offense this season, leading the team in batting average (.320), hits (47), doubles (8), and sharing the team lead with 24 runs batted in.
Paquette, who has eight three-hit games this season, went 3-for-4 at the plate in both games of a doubleheader April 21 at North Dakota State. He has totaled a team-high 13 multi-hit games this season, including six consecutive in road series at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Northern Colorado in March.
Paquette moved into a full-time role when Beau Hanowski was injured in early March.In the 14 games between Hanowski's injury and his return to the lineup, Paquette batted .400 (22-for-55) with 14 runs batted in and seven runs scored. He went 11-for-16 (.688 average) in the four-game weekend series at Northern Colorado, adding an .813 slugging percentage.
HANOWSKI HEATING UP: Senior outfielder Beau Hanowski has been the Jackrabbits' best hitter in recent weeks, bringing a nine-game hitting streak into Friday's series opener against Oakland.
Since beginning his streak April 20 at North Dakota State, Hanowski has raised his batting average 118 points from .180 to .298. Over the last nine games he is batting .515 (17-for-33) with six runs batted in.
A returning first-team all-Summit League performer, Hanowski's 2012 season was sidetracked in March by a shoulder injury that forced him to miss 14 games. Since his return to the lineup in early April, Hanowski has led the Jackrabbits during Summit League play with a .375 batting average (18-for-48), seven runs scored and a .479 slugging percentage while batting out in the leadoff spot. He also shares the team lead with seven RBI in league.
SOMSEN RACKING UP K'S: South Dakota State right-hander Layne Somsen piled up the strikeouts during the month of April.
In five starts covering 28 innings, Somsen struck out 35 batters and walked only 10. The Yankton native opened the month with eight strikeouts in six innings at IPFW on April 7, then struck out the side in his only inning of work against Minnesota on April 11. In a game against Iowa on April 14 in Omaha, Somsen fanned a career-high nine batters in six innings. In addition, Somsen struck out seven and did not walk a batter in 7.2 innings in a losing effort at North Dakota State.
Somsen picked up his first victory of the season - and his first career victory since the 2009 Summit League Championships - by pitching eight shutout innings in a 3-1 Jackrabbit win over Oral Roberts on April 29. He alllowed only two hits, walked three and fanned eight batters. Somsen made only one appearance in 2010 and missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
For the season, Somsen is holding opposing batters to a .184 batting average.
POWER OUTAGE: Twelve games into the Summit League schedule, the Jackrabbit baseball team is still in search of its first home run in league play. SDSU's last round-tripper was a solo shot by Aaron Machbitz on April 14 against Iowa in Omaha, Neb.
While the Jackrabbits haven't been hitting home runs, they haven't been giving them up, either. SDSU's league opponents have surrendered only one long ball - a two-run homer by North Dakota State's Kyle Kleinendorst in the first game of a doubleheader on April 21.
COACH SCHRAGE: Veteran college baseball coach Dave Schrage (pronounced Schrag) was hired to take over the reins of the South Dakota State University baseball program on Aug. 8, 2011.
"Dave Schrage's familiarity with our recruiting area and his success in building programs like ours make him a tremendous addition to the Jackrabbit family," said Jackrabbit Athletic Director Justin Sell in announcing the hire.
Schrage posted his 600th career victory on March 18, when the Jackrabbits defeated Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, 11-8, in the completion of a suspended game. In 23-plus seasons as a collegiate head coach, he has averaged more than 25 victories per season, including five campaigns with 32 or more wins. He has coached players who have earned all-conference honors 58 times and 38 of his former student-athletes have gone on to play professionally.
"I am very humbled and appreciative for this opportunity," Schrage said. "I was so impressed with the quality of people when I visited campus. It is a great time to come to South Dakota State University. There is so much growth and excitement happening on campus. My family and I are looking forward to getting involved in the Brookings community and joining the Jackrabbit family."
Unlike many of his previous stops, Schrage inherits a winning program; SDSU has averaged 38 wins each of the past two seasons, tying the school record for wins with a 39-21 record in 2010, followed by a 37-20 mark in 2011. The Jackrabbits have advanced to the Summit League championship series three consecutive years.
"Coach (Reggie) Christiansen and coach Price did a super job building this program into a winner," Schrage said. "I expect to keep that momentum going and reach even greater heights."
Most recently, Schrage was head coach at Notre Dame for four seasons, leading the Fighting Irish to a 119-104-1 record from 2007-10. After posting a .500 record (28-28) his first season in South Bend, Schrage put Notre Dame back in contention for postseason play with a 33-21-1 record in 2008 and a 36-23 mark in 2009. The Fighting Irish led the BIG EAST Conference in fielding in both 2008 and 2009, while consistently ranking at or near the top in batting, on-base percentage and earned run average.
Schrage has previously found success at the mid-major level, including a four-year stint at Evansville (Ind.) from 2003-06, during which he guided the Purple Aces to a 130-108 record. Evansville improved its win total each of his four seasons, from 24 in 2003 to 43 in 2006. Schrage earned Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors for the third time in 2006 as Evansville won both the regular season and tournament conference titles, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Purple Aces advanced all the way to the finals of the Charlottesville Regional, knocking off host Virginia before falling to South Carolina in the championship.
A Chicago native, Schrage directed a dramatic turnaround in his home state during a three-year run at Northern Illinois from 2000-02. After inheriting a team that was 4-51 the year before he arrived, Schrage's squad turned in a 20-game improvement with a 24-33 record in his first season and then led the Huskies to a winning season in 2001 with a 28-27 overall mark. He was named runner-up for National Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper in 2000.
Schrage began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant under his predecessor at Notre Dame, Paul Mainieri, at St. Thomas University (Fla.) in 1984. He later returned to his alma mater, Creighton University (Neb.), as an assistant coach for two seasons.
From 1986-87, Schrage coached the Queensland Rams club team in Brisbane, Australia, before returning stateside as he gained his first head coaching job at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. From 1988-90 he led the junior college program to a 61-66 mark.
Schrage then spent nine seasons as head coach at the University of Northern Iowa, where he was named Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1997. His teams improved from two league victories in UNI's first season in the MVC in 1992 to 18 during the 1997 campaign.
As a collegiate player, Schrage was an all-conference outfielder at Creighton, batting .400 as a junior and .433 his senior season. He also was an Academic All-America honoree during his senior campaign in 1983, and graduated that spring with a bachelor of science degree in finance. Schrage was honored on the MVC's Centennial Celebration baseball team and is the only person in league history to earn all-conference honors and be named MVC Coach of the Year in baseball.
THE ROSTER: The 2012 SDSU baseball roster features 33 players from eight different states plus three Canadian provinces. Of the 33 players, five are from Colorado and South Dakota, while three are from each of the states of Illinois, Minnesota and Texas. Iowa, Nebraska and Washington feature one player each. In addition, nine players are from Canada - four from Ontario, three from British Columbia and two from Alberta. By class, seven are seniors, eight are juniors, eight are sophomores and 10 are incoming freshmen.
A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits are scheduled to play a non-conference game at North Dakota on Tuesday (May 8), followed by a four-game series at Southern Utah May 10-12.