Jackrabbits host Western in key series
South Dakota State and Western Illinois will attempt to solidify their positions in the Summit League standings as the two teams square off in a four-game weekend series at Erv Huether Field.
Western Illinois enters the weekend 17-24 overall, but atop the Summit League standings with a 9-7 mark in league play. The Jackrabbits are a game behind as part of a three-way tie for second place at 7-7 in The Summit League and 23-23 overall.
Friday’s series opener is scheduled for a 3 p.m. first pitch. A doubleheader Saturday afternoon is slated for a 1 p.m. start, with Sunday’s series finale also scheduled for a 1 p.m. first pitch. The six members of Jackrabbit baseball senior class will be honored during pre-game ceremonies Sunday at 12:40 p.m.
Audio coverage of the entire series will be available through the Jackrabbit Extra subscription service at GoJacks.com, with Tyler Merriam calling the play-by-play. Live stats also will be available through GoJacks.com.
THE SERIES: South Dakota State has held the upper hand in the all-time series against Western Illinois, posting an 18-9 record against the Fighting Leathernecks since the teams first met in 2006. The Jackrabbits opened Summit League play by splitting a doubleheader at Western Illinois in late March.
The two squads played six times during the 2013 season, with SDSU winning four of the six matchups. The Jackrabbits won three of four games during a regular season series May 4-5 in Macomb, then split two games at the Summit League Baseball Championship later in the month in Rochester, Mich. Western Illinois won the opening game of the tournament, 4-2, on May 23, before SDSU eliminated the Fighting Leathernecks with a 5-4 win two days later en route to the tournament title.
PRESEASON POLLS: The South Dakota State University baseball team was 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.
The 24-game league schedule concludes May 17, followed by the four-team Summit League Baseball Championship May 22-24, which SDSU will host in Sioux Falls.
MACHBITZ SOLID: Senior first baseman Aaron Machbitz has helped pace the Jackrabbit offense throughout the 2014 season.
A native of Dallas, Texas, Machbitz has hit safely in 36 of the 46 games he has played, posting a team-best .328 batting average (56-for-175). He leads the team with seven home runs, 29 runs batted in, 12 doubles and a .509 slugging percentage. Machbitz, who also shares the team lead with 32 runs scored, has reached base safely in 26 of the last 28 games.
His first two home runs of the season both 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.
Also a solid defensive first baseman, Machbitz has upped his career putouts total to 1,203, moving him into fourth place in program history and past Joel Blake (908 putouts from 2009-11). Chet Meyer, who tallied 1,213 putouts from 1987-90, stands third in career putouts at SDSU.
SPLETT SETTING THE TABLE: Senior outfielder Scott Splett has been one of the Jackrabbits’ top hitter since moving into the leadoff spot in the Jackrabbit batting order at the start of March.
In the 37 games since taking over leadoff duties, Splett has hit .320 (47-for-147) with 14 multi-hit games during that stretch. Included in that span was a five-hit game in a losing effort against Georgetown on March 9. It was the most hits in a game by a Jackrabbit player since Eric Cain recorded a Division I-era best six hits in a 2010 game at Dallas Baptist (Texas).
A native of Apple Valley, Minn., Splett has put together an 11-game hitting streak this season and has reached base safely in 44 of 46 games this season, including a streak of 24 consecutive games to start the season that was snapped in the opening game of the March 30 doubleheader at Omaha.
JOHNSON HEATING UP: Freshman Matt Johnson has been a regular in the Jackrabbit lineup since the calendar turned to April, playing in 18 of the team’s last 19 games at either third base or designated hitter, with 14 starts.
Starting with a 4-for-4, four-RBI effort against Mount Marty on April 8, Johnson has posted a .353 batting average (18-for-51) with 15 runs batted in. The Ankeny, Iowa, native hit his first collegiate home run April 25 at Iowa and has hit safely in eight of his last nine games, including each of the last five.
Johnson enters the weekend tied for second on the team with 21 total runs batted in.
MOORE SETS SAVES MARK: With six saves this season, Jackrabbit closer J.D. Moore has upped his career total to 24, setting a new SDSU career saves record. The previous record of 23 was set by All-American Trever Vermeulen from 2008-11
Moore recorded the record-breaking save with a perfect ninth inning in a 3-0 Jackrabbit victory in the second game of a May 3 doubleheader against Omaha at Erv Huether Field.
After a rough start to the 2014 season, Moore has allowed only three earned runs in his last 16 appearances, covering a total of 19 1/3 innings. He has compiled a 4-2 record with five saves during that span, including throwing three shutout innings en route to a 5-2, 11-inning victory at Western Illinois on March 28. He also pitched three shutout innings as the Jackrabbits defeated Fort Wayne, 3-2, in nine innings in the opening game of an April 19 doubleheader.
Prior to the start of the 2014 season, Moore was named Summit League Preseason Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. He also was named to the initial watch list for the 10th annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award.
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.
BRAY TOPS THE ROTATION: Junior right-hander Adam Bray has taken over the top spot in the Jackrabbit starting rotation this season. He has allowed one earned run or less in eight of 12 starts this season, including a streak of six in a row that ended in his last start, May 2 versus Omaha.
A second-team all-Summit League pick last season, Bray enters Friday’s scheduled start against Western Illinois second on the team in wins with a 5-4 mark. A two-time Summit League Pitcher of the Week in 2014 (Feb. 17, March 10), Bray has struck out 79 batters and walked only 13 in 82 2/3 innings. Bray set a career high with 11 strikeouts in only six innings in an April 6 against Fort Wayne and reached double figures for K’s again in his next outing with 10 versus Air Force on April 11. In an April 25 start at Iowa, Bray fanned nine batters and did not walk a batter over seven innings in a no-decision effort.
Bray, who has posted a 15-9 career record in his three seasons at SDSU, has cracked the Jackrabbit career top 10 in three different categories. His 34 career starts are tied for fifth all-time at SDSU and his 215 innings pitched are also tied for fifth. Meanwhile, Bray’s 168 career strikeouts rank sixth, and his 79 strikeouts so far in 2014 are tied for seventh most in a single season by a Jackrabbit pitcher.
HEEMSTRA RETURNS: The Jackrabbit pitching staff has been further bolstered by the recent return of Marcus Heemstra.
Heemstra recently completed his basketball career at SDSU, and averaged 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game primarily as a reserve forward during the 2013-14 season.
A native of Rock Valley, Iowa, Heemstra made a combined 21 appearances with one start for the Jackrabbit baseball team between the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He sat out the 2013 season to focus solely on basketball, and has made five appearances out of the bullpen so far this season, compiling a 3.00 earned run average in six innings, while striking out five and walking six
HODGES HONORED AGAIN: South Dakota State University right-hander Chad Hodges earned his league-leading fourth Summit League Pitcher of the Week award following a standout performance May 3 against Omaha.
A junior from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Hodges threw eight shutout innings in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mavericks, one SDSU won by a 3-0 score. Hodges allowed five hits, struck out three and walked two batters in recording his team-leading sixth win of the season.
Hodges shared the weekly honor with North Dakota State left-hander Parker Trewin. Hodges’ four Summit League Pitcher of the Week honors have come in four different months: Feb. 24, March 24, April 24 and May 5.
EXTRA, EXTRA: Eight of the Jackrabbits’ 46 games so far this season have been decided in extra innings. SDSU has gone 5-3 in those games, winning one nine-inning game, three 10-inning decisions and an 11-inning contest.
SDSU’s three losses in extra-inning games have all come in series openers: a 5-4, 10-inning loss at Creighton (Neb.) on March 14, followed a week later by a 2-1, 14-inning setback in the first game of a March 21 twinbill at Chicago State.The Jackrabbits’ latest extra-inning loss was a 2-1, 11-inning setback at Iowa on April 25.
The Jackrabbits played only one extra-inning game during the 2013 season, falling 4-3 in 13 innings to San Francisco (Calif.) at the Eugene Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
SUMMIT IN SIOUX FALLS: South Dakota State University Athletics, in conjunction with the Sioux Falls Sports Authority and the Sioux Falls Canaries, has reached an agreement to host the 2014 Summit League Baseball Championship at Sioux Falls Stadium.
“This is a great opportunity for the city of Sioux Falls and The Summit League,” said Wes Hall, executive director of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority. “Sioux Falls is a great sports town and we are excited to play a part in the journey to the College World Series.”
The four-team, double-elimination tournament is scheduled to be played May 22-24. The tournament format consists of opening-round games May 22, three games on May 23 and up to two games to decide the tournament champion on May 24. The winner of the tournament will receive the Summit League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins on May 30.
“Our team is honored to once again host our league championship in a first-class venue,” South Dakota State head coach Dave Schrage said. “We look forward to playing three exciting days of Summit League championship baseball in front of large crowds.”
Sioux Falls Stadium previously hosted the Summit League Baseball Championship in 2011. SDSU also hosted the 2006 Division I Independent Tournament at Sioux Falls Stadium.
Tickets for the tournament and pre-tournament banquet are now on sale online at sfsportsauthority.com or by phone at (605) 373-2041. Fans who order Summit League Baseball Championship tickets online also will have the first opportunity to purchase tickets for the 2015 Summit League Basketball Championships at a later date.
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 672-742-2 career mark, including a 76-80-1 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.
Prior to South Dakota State, 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 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.
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 are slated to play a non-conference game May 12 at North Dakota, then are scheduled to close out the home portion of their schedule with another non-conference game versus Winnipeg on May 14. The home finale is set for a 3 p.m. first pitch at Erv Huether Field.
SDSU wraps up the Summit League regular season with a four-game series May 15-17 at North Dakota State.