Central region

Augustana University baseball team heads to Central Region Tournament

The Augustana baseball team didn’t win the NSIC tournament played last week on their home turf, but they might have had it if they needed to.

Sitting second in the regional standings, the Vikings knew a spot in the NCAA region was assured, so when coach Tim Huber ran out of pitchers in Game 2, he wasn’t about to bring them back. one of his best arms in short rest for a title that would have been largely for bragging rights.

Sure, another trophy would have been nice, and celebrating on their home turf would have been fun, but returning to the national championship, where the Vikings became the northernmost school in Division II history to win it all in 2018, is the main objective.

That task begins this week, as the Vikings have been named as the 2 seed in the Central region, it was announced on Sunday evening. This year’s NCAA Division II tournament features 42 teams, with eight regions containing varying numbers of teams.

Continued:MSU-Mankato defeats Augustana for NSIC Baseball Tournament title

Top-seeded Missouri Central (39-6) hosts the six-team Central Region, and the Mules will face 6th-seeded Henderson State in the first round Thursday at 3 p.m. The Vikings (36-11) will face Southern Arkansas to follow, at around 7 p.m.

MSU-Mankato took 3rd place after winning the NSIC Regular Season and Conference Tournament titles. The 37-8 Mavericks will face No. 4 seed Arkansas Tech on Thursday at noon. The regional is a double-elimination event, with the championship scheduled for Sunday. The winner will qualify for the Division II World Series in Caray, North Carolina, June 5-12.

The Vikings, of course, have already been to Caray. It’s where they won the national championship in 2018, and a handful of players from that team are still in uniform.

Much like this team, the Vikings have a charged offense that combines power and speed, and a pitching staff with multiple capable arms.

Augustana's Carter Howell connects.

The 2018 team had a 2.85 ERA and aces Jacob Blank and Tyler Mitzel were 21-0 overall, and Huber admits they aren’t as loaded with pitching this time around. But if they avoid disappointment, he thinks another title is a realistic possibility.

“We have to make some guys step up,” said Huber, whose 2019 team followed the national championship by winning the NSIC and regional before falling to the Super Regional. “If we get our pitchers to do what they’ve been doing most of the year, we’ll have a really good shot. We just can’t have a bad outing. If we end up in the losing group, it will be difficult. I don’t know if we’re deep enough for that.

That might say more about other teams in the area than the Vikings (the Mankato staff in particular are spoiled for wealth), as Huber isn’t exactly out of options.

Ryan Jares is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA, Max Steffens is 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA, Koby Bishop is 7-1 with a 2.53 ERA and Tanner Brown is 5-0 with a 2.86 ERA. Bishop and Steffens weren’t particularly keen in the conference tournament, and that’s what Huber says can’t happen again in Missouri. The Vikings bullpen has also been average for most of the season.

Southern Arkansas, the Vikings’ opponent on Thursday, is a strong offensive team, batting .302 with 67 homers. Like Augie, they like to run, with 82 stolen bases. Austin Baker is hitting .408, while Brett McGee leads the Muleriders (27-14) with 12 homers. Jacob Womack was their best pitcher, entering the tournament 7-1 with a 3.89 ERA.

Scoring wasn’t a problem for Augie, and the Vikings swung the bats well in the NSIC tournament. They’re hitting .328/.406/.536 as a team, with 69 homers and 121 stolen bases in 47 games.

Carter Howell (.430, 9 home runs, 27 interceptions), Will Olson (.349, 15 home runs), Christian Kuzemka (.342, 7 home runs) and Jaxon Rosencranz (.301, 7 home runs) are all dangerous bats. The same goes for Riley Johnson (.302, 20 interceptions), Sam Baier (.311, 9 homers, 21 interceptions), Jordan Barth (.337, 10 homers) and JT Mix – four guys who all played a part major in the title team three years ago.

“If we swing the bats like we did (in the NSIC tournament), we’ll be fine,” Huber said. “Hopefully our approaches stay good and we go out there and rock it.”