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KVSC Sports Covers Big Weekend of St. Cloud State Sports

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01/17/2019 - 11:30 AM

KVSC Sports Covers Big Weekend of St. Cloud State Sports
Credit: SCSU Athletics

by Hans Bristol / @hans_bristol / kvsc.org/sports

Five St. Cloud State teams will be featured on KVSC Sports this weekend and streaming online on the KVSC Sports Stream.

 

Friday, January 18th, the Women’s Hockey team start off the day with a match-up against WCHA rival Minnesota State – Mankato at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. Shortly after that game finishes, KVSC Sports will be live in St. Paul Minnesota with live on air action of St. Cloud State Men’s and Women’s Basketball  from Concordia – St. Paul where both Huskies Basketball teams look for critical NSIC road wins. The day caps off with the #2 St. Cloud State Men’s Hockey team hosting #10 Western Michigan in a crucial NCHC Battle live on KVSC 88.1fm.

 

Saturday, January 19th, award-winning wrestling broadcaster John Peterson has the call from Halenbeck Hall as the #1 ranked St. Cloud State Wrestling team hosts Mary looking to continue its historic stretch of wins in conference duals. #2 SCSU Men’ Hockey hits the ice in the evening for game two vs. WMU looking for a NCHC win on Hockey Day Minnesota.

 

Don’t miss a minute of Huskies action this weekend on KVSC Sports!

 

1/18 :

 

SCSU Women’s Hockey vs. MSU- Mankato / 3pm

KVSC Sports Stream – On Air Talent : Hans Bristol & Drew Steele

 

SCSU Women’s Basketball / Men’s Basketball @ Concordia St. Paul / 5:30pm / 7:30pm

KVSC Sports Stream – On Air Talent : Leif Ender & Sam Goetzinger

 

#2 SCSU Men’s Hockey vs. #10 Western Michigan / 7:07pm

KVSC 88.1fm (or livestream) – On Air Talent : AJ Fredrickson, Nick Maxson, Andrew Erickson and Hans Bristol

 

1/19 :

 

#1 SCSU Wrestling vs. Mary / 2pm

KVSC Sports Stream – On Air Talent : John Peterson

 

#2 SCSU Men’s Hockey vs. #10 Western Michigan / 6:07pm

KVSC 88.1fm (or livestream) – On Air Talent : AJ Fredrickson, Nick Maxon, Andrew Erickson and Hans Bristol

 

Follow @KVSCSports and @KVSCHockey on Twitter all weekend long for up to the minute updates of St. Cloud State sports!

 

Huskies Wrestling Update

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01/16/2019 - 9:00 AM

Huskies Wrestling Update
Photo - SCSU Athletics

by Max Steigauf / kvsc.org/sports

 

The St. Cloud State wrestling team did what they do best over semester break, win! The team won the Ranger duals with 36-3, 25-9, and 34-6 dual scores. 

 

The week before that was the real show. 

 

The Huskies went to Louisville, Kentucky for the NWCA D-II National Duals. SCSU truly showed that they are in a class of their own as they pillaged the competition with 3 of their 4 wins being in double digits. The one close match came in the semi-finals when the Huskies downed the #1 team in the nation, Nebraska Kearney, 22-15. 

 

The finals match was against Notre Dame (Ohio), as the Huskies took their 5th national dual championship previously winning the dual tournament in 2018, 2017, 2013 and 2012. While these tournaments are massive successes for the team, they still need to defend their national title in March and if there is one thing that we learned over the break, that this group can produce upsets. 

 

Not only did the huskies down the #1 ranked team but Garrett Aldrich who was unranked beat #4 Jonathan Killingsworth of Nebraska Kearney, even some high-ranking Huskies fell as #7 Jake Barzowski lost to an unranked opponent in the Kearney match. It is a bit concerning because if these matches have taught us anything, it’s that anyone is beatable. This aspect makes for good wrestling down the stretch which the Huskies will need if they are to defend their national championship. 

 

St. Cloud State seem to be consistent with who wins and losses as guys like Vince Dietz led the way with 20 team points followed by Kolton Eischens with 17, and Brett Velasquez and James Pleski both with 12 team points in the national duals. The Huskies also as a team have been consistent as they have a 39-match win streak right now dating back to 2016-17. 

 

St. Cloud State can continue this success as the last part of the season gets underway. the huskies will face U of Mary this Saturday at 2pm in Halenbeck hall for the alumni day match. 

 

The Marauders have a 3-1 dual match record this year with their only loss coming at the hands of Northern State University who will be coming to Halenbeck January 24th. 

 

The Marauders and Huskies have faced one similar opponent this year in Minot State. Both the Huskies and Marauders have beaten Minot, but Minot showed a big hole in the Marauder’s lineup.  the Marauders 174, 184 and, 197 all lost to Minot. 

 

The Huskies lost one weight class to Minot state at 174, but Kolton Eischens wasn’t wrestling in that spot during the Minot State match it was redshirt freshman Riley Vanek. If the Huskies put out their best lineup, I don’t see this match being very close, and I expect the Huskies unbeaten streak to continue to 40 after this Saturday. Huskies upcoming matches :

 

January 19th 2pm Halenbeck hall vs. U of Mary Marauders (Alumni night) 

 

January 24th 7pm Halenbeck hall vs. Northern State University (Prep Night) 

 

January 31st 7pm at Moorhead 

 

Huskies Split Weekend Series vs. UMD

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01/15/2019 - 9:00 AM

Huskies Split Weekend Series vs. UMD
Photo - SCSU Athletics

by Hans Bristol @hans_bristol / kvsc.org/sports

 

With expectations set on defending the Penrose Cup, the Huskies kick off a difficult stretch of NCHC play starting last weekend at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

 

The weekend's matchup marks the first time Huskies head coach Brett Larson returns to battle the program he won two National Championships with as an assistant coach.

 

JAN. 11  - AMSOIL ARENA (DULUTH, MN) - #1 ST. CLOUD STATE 1 / #5 MINNESOTA DULUTH 3

 

A stat sheet showing a dominant performance for St. Cloud State Friday night would not generate a positive result as St. Cloud State lost their first NCHC game in regulation falling to Duluth 3-1.

 

SCSU outshot the Bulldogs 14-6 in the first period alone, but UMD’s Nick Swaney was first to get on the score sheet for the Bulldogs off an assist from Peter Krieger for a quick 1-0 lead to the hosts.

 

Despite the early deficit on the road, SCSU’s Robby Jackson netted home his ninth goal of the season set up by Jack Ahcan and Sam Hentges to tie the game at 1. In Jackson’s career, Friday night’s goal is his 101st career point for SCSU. The equalizing goal sent the tightly contested game all tied into the third period. Both teams took advantage of standout performances in goal by SCSU’s David Hrenak and UMD’s Hunter Shepard.

 

UMD would respond in the 3rd, wrapping up the win behind goals from freshman Noah Cates (9:52) and sophomore Justin Richards (18:22). The Huskies would not find another scoring chance late in the contest, ultimately falling to the rival Bulldogs 3-1.

 

St. Cloud State out-shot UMD 31-18. Huskies netminder David Hrenak would finish the game with 15 saves but suffering his second loss of the season.  Special teams were not a strength for the visitors going 0-5 on the power play. Minnesota-Duluth did not go on the power play once in the win over St. Cloud State.

 

JAN. 12  - AMSOIL ARENA (DULUTH, MN) - #1 ST. CLOUD STATE 4 / #5 MINNESOTA DULUTH 2

 

Looking to avenge Friday night’s loss against the Bulldogs, the contest did not start strong as the Huskies battled for a key road victory in NCHC play.

 

UMD’s dangerous offensive attack struck twice in the first period behind goals from Riley Tufte and Justin Richards propelling UMD to a 2-0 lead. It was at this point the Huskies knew they needed a major response in a critical game. They got it.

 

St. Cloud State would go on to score four unanswered goals to take a commanding 4-2 win over UMD Saturday night in Duluth.

           

The scoring began with Sartell, MN native Spencer Meier tallying his first collegiate goal cutting the Bulldogs lead to 2-1. Not long after, senior Jimmy Schuldt rifled a shot past UMD’s Hunter Sheperd to tie the game up at 2 before the 1st period was over.

 

In the 2nd period, it was sophomore Easton Brodzinski scoring a goal utilizing beautiful stick handling and a back handed finish to put the Huskies ahead 3-2. Brodzinski’s ninth goal of the season would be the game winner for SCSU. Freshman Sam Hentges and Micah Miller earned the assists.

 

To seal the game, SCSU’s Robby Jackson slotted home his 10th goal of the season pushing the Huskies lead to 4-2. His goal would be the final goal of the game, and SCSU travelled home Saturday night with a massive 4-2 win over #5 Minnesota-Duluth.

           

Contrary to Friday night, UMD finished Saturday night’s contest out shooting the Huskies 32-22. The Bulldogs earned 5 total chances on the power play but were only successful once in extra man opportunities.

 

St. Cloud State goalie David Hrenak collected his 11th win of the season now boasting a 11-2-1 record in goal this season. In the game, he tallied 30 total saves helping guide the Huskies to a 4-2 win.

 

Huskies head coach Brett Larson Saturday night earned his first win over his former team in his first season leading the Huskies. UMD will be in St. Cloud for a late season re-match at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center March 8th and 9th.

 

After the weekend split in Duluth, SCSU currently sits in 1st in the NCHC just four points ahead of this weekend’s opponent Western Michigan. Western Michigan enters the weekend against SCSU on a 10-game unbeaten streak that tops the NCHC in current held streaks.

 

#2 St. Cloud State vs. #11 Western Michigan will be LIVE this weekend on KVSC 88.1fm or online at kvsc.org – coverage begins Friday night at 6:30pm with puck drop set for 7:07pm.

 

Austing, Mallek Named Preseason All-Americans for SCSU Baseball

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01/04/2019 - 4:15 PM

Austing, Mallek Named Preseason All-Americans for SCSU Baseball
Austing and Mallek were named Preseason All-Americans by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper

 With Opening Day under a month away, two senior St. Cloud State Baseball players earned high preseason honors as the team readies for its highly-anticipated 2019 campaign.

Righthanded pitcher Dominic Austing and right fielder Mitch Mallek have been named Preseason All-Americans by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

Austing will likely be tabbed as the Huskies' Opening Day Starter after a dominant 2018, going 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA and a 2.10 FIP over 78.2 innings and 13 starts. He posted a 0.877 WHIP while holding opponents to a .211 average and a .526 OPS, striking out 24.3% of batters faced and delivering an NSIC-low 2.9% walk rate. The Huskies' ace picked up ABCA/Rawlings Second Team All-Region and Second Team All-NSIC nods at the conclusion of the 2019 season.

"It's fun being recognized," said Austing, "I don't really like the attention too much but I appreciate people noticing. My success has come largely because of the people I'm surrounded by. I plan on living up to the award and seeing the team have a lot of success and fun this year along the way."

Mallek will serve as St. Cloud State's right fielder and key middle-of-the-order cog for a third straight season after a 2018 campaign in which he slashed .383/.459/.531 for a .990 OPS. The left handed hitter clubbed a team-high 11 doubles and 5 home runs, driving in 32 while scoring 43 runs. He also went 4-5 on the basepaths on his way to being named ABCA/Rawlings First Team All-Region and First Team All-NSIC.

"I'm pretty excited about being named an All-American," Mallek said, "It's a great accolade and I am eager to get back to St. Cloud."

12th-year head coach Pat Dolan points to Austing and Mallek's character as primary factors in their success.

"Both Dom and Mitch are obviously talented baseball players," said Dolan, "When you put talent along with the dedication and hard work they have put in and the fact that they're just flat out nice guys, it's a formula deserving of being preseason All-Americans.

Dolan now has six All-Americans on roster, with Austing and Mallek joining pitchers Sheldon Miks (2015-16), Zach Walz (2017), Cal Giese (2018), and Blake Flint (2018).

"They are both humble and they are both hungry," Dolan said, "And that's another great combination for success."

Austing now leads a rotation loaded with four All-Americans, joined by Miks, Giese, and Flint. He's excited for the chance to play with so many talented arms.

"I'm looking forward to the internal competition this team will have," said Austing, "I know personally that all those guys are going to push me to want to outplay them, and I think the opposite is true. We all can teach each other something, so as a collective staff we have all the opportunity in the world."

Mallek spent his summer as an everyday corner outfielder for the Northwoods League's Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, just 20 minutes from his hometown in Plover. Playing in 58 games against some of the best arms in college baseball, he slashed .293/.367/.372 with 12 doubles, a home run and 24 RBI. He feels that his mental side of the game took a big step forward during his second year in the Northwoods.

"The biggest aspect of the game that the Northwoods League taught me," Mallek explained, "Was that coming to the yard every day is not only physically demanding, but also mentally demanding. Regardless of how well or poor you played individually one night, you really had to have a short memory because you had a new game the next day. You really couldn't let a bad loss or a couple bad at-bats get you down mentally, otherwise that would carry over to the next game, starting a negative cycle. I gained a crazy amount of physical and mental reps which I believe helped me become a better teammate and player overall."

Senior first baseman Mat Meyer was named a Player to Watch by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, while junior center fielder Najee Gaskins was tabbed as a Newcomer to Watch.

The Huskies will open their 2019 season on February 1st at the Houston Winter Classic against 2018 World Series participant Texas A&M-Kingsville, with first pitch scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CST. "Voice of Huskies Baseball" Thomas Breach will have the call at Minute Maid Park on the KVSC Sports Stream with Husky Den Pregame at 12:30 p.m. CST.

The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, known as "The Voice of Amateur Baseball," has been published for over 40 years and can be found HERE.

The Dominant Awesomeness of Dominic Austing

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01/03/2019 - 5:15 PM

The Dominant Awesomeness of Dominic Austing
Austing fires a changeup at the 2018 NSIC Tournament

“Who’s the ace?” That simple three-word question is one that many baseball fans have pondered throughout the game’s existence. Teams are often defined by their ace, from professional baseball all the way down to little league. In the Pat Dolan era at St. Cloud State, the Huskies simply wouldn’t be “The Huskies” without a dominant pitcher anchoring the staff.   

David Deminsky held the title of ace from 2008 to 2010, winning 20 games while posting a 3.39 ERA and a 3.03 FIP across his three seasons at the top of the staff, culminating in him being selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 44th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Scott Lieser took the reigns as the ace in 2011 until his graduation and signing with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013, going 29-7 over 35 starts with a 2.62 ERA, a 2.58 FIP and a .583 opponent OPS. Kyle Fischer inherited the role in 2014, going 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA, a 3.06 FIP and a .630 opponent OPS before being drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. Then-freshman phenom Sheldon Miks earned the title midway through his 2015 debut season, holding the role until he suffered a torn UCL two starts into 2017. Miks went 18-5 with a 1.56 ERA in two full campaigns as the ace and was named an All-American twice. Cal Giese shouldered the load as the new staff ace after Miks’ injury in 2017, going 9-2 with a 1.86 ERA and a .568 oppenent OPS over 13 starts. With Miks unable to return until May and Giese shelved with an elbow injury of his own, the Huskies needed a new ace to step up in 2018. 

And thus, the legend of Dominic Austing took flight. 

The homegrown righthander, born and raised in Sauk Rapids, began his rise to the top of St. Cloud State’s pitching staff all the way back in his prep days at St. Cloud Cathedral. A starting pitcher and second baseman for Bob Karn, as a senior Austing anchored the Crusaders’ pitching staff with a name familiar to Huskies fans: Brindley Theisen, a senior on the St. Cloud State Men’s Basketball team in his second year as the starting shooting guard, following two seasons as a key rotational piece off the bench. The soft-spoken Austing cracks a smile when considering which of the two was Cathedral’s ace.

“That’s up for interpretation, I guess,” Austing chuckled, “I don’t really care about the labels. We both were pretty successful.”

Cathedral won the 2014 Minnesota State High School League Class AA Championship over Fairmont, with Austing earning the win in relief at Target Field. The Crusaders also took home the 2015 Class AA Championship against Minnehaha behind a complete game from Theisen.

“There was a lot of talent on every team I played on there,” said Austing, “I mean, there’s been players going through Cathedral for as long as I can remember. Guys I was looking up to when I was in seventh, eighth grade. The Thome’s of the world, Jeff Fasching was a really good player, he’s down with the Gophers now, Brindley had quite a bit of success, Tommy Auger’s out at Saint John’s. There’s just always people surrounding you, I think, that make you a better player when you’re playing with them.”

Austing went 5-0 as a junior at Cathedral, punching out 45 across 36.0 innings with a 0.51 ERA. As a senior in 2015, he dominated by going 8-0 with a 1.84 ERA across 57.0 frames, striking out 79 and walking just 19. As a high-profile pitcher for a program with recent graduates Andrew Thome (North Dakota) and Jeff Fasching (Minnesota) heading to NCAA Division I schools, Austing took a laid-back approach to recruiting, fitting in with his personality.

“I was kind of low-key in the recruiting process,” remembered Austing, “I didn’t do all the ‘showcase, travel ball,’ that really wasn’t my scene. I had other hobbies, I liked to go to the cabin, I liked to play football and hang out with friends.”

In fact, Austing wasn’t too concerned about the prospect of college baseball.

“To be honest, I wasn’t really focused on playing college ball all that much,” Austing said, “My motto’s always been kind of like, ‘If you’re good enough, they’ll find you.’”

Well, he was good enough, and they did find him. Near the end of Austing’s junior year, St. Cloud State head coach Pat Dolan invited him on a visit. Dolan had experienced great success recruiting Cathedral players to the Huskies, with standouts such as Phil Imholte, Steve Rindelaub, and Nick Maiers trading the blue and gold for the scarlet and black. Austing quickly became enamored with the idea of staying close to home.

“For me, having my family and friends come watch is one of the big reasons I like to play,” said Austing, “When I saw that as an opportunity I kind of jumped on it, me being a homebody as I am, getting to play here for a good team, I figured that it’d be a good opportunity.”

The righthander began his collegiate career as a true freshman in 2016. The Huskies opened that year at the Houston Winter Classic, as they will here in 2019, and Austing made his college debut against Tarleton State at Minute Maid Park. He fired 2.0 innings of relief, allowing one earned while striking out one in relief of senior Ryan Diers.

The 2016 Huskies relied on a mix of youth and experience on their pitching staff, with sophomores Miks and Kevin Bolder joining soon to be four-time All-American senior Reese Gregory and redshirt freshman Giese as starters of 7+ games. Diers made 5 starts, as did sophomore Tyler Gentz. Austing joined the fray as a swingman, helping David Kroger, Miles Nablo, and Gentz bridge the gap to senior closer Logan Spitzak in relief while making spot starts as needed.

Austing made his first collegiate start and notched his first collegiate win on March 12th, 2016 against Valley City State at the Tucson Invitational, firing 5.0 scoreless with four hits and four strikeouts. He remembers being nervous before taking the hill.

“I was very nervous,” recounted Austing, “I still get nervous before every game. I think it’s a good thing.”

He then experienced his first real struggles at the college level, allowing 10 earned runs total over his next two starts against SMSU and Upper Iowa.

“You learn pretty quick that everybody’s pretty talented at this level,” explained Austing, “You can’t get by with one or two pitches, you have to learn how to actually pitch. I think I knew that, but it really sticks home when you struggle, which I did struggle, but I needed that. I still struggle. I think having guys that you know are going to have your back after a bad outing, it’s not like it’s the end of the world, that you have to come back around and learn from back, it humbles you a little bit.”

Austing rebounded from the two rough outings by twirling his best outing of the year, punching out 8 batters over 4.0 innings of relief while allowing just 3 hits and a walk versus Augustana, and continued his role as a swingman throughout the remainder of the season. He earned a win out of the bullpen in a pair of postseason blowouts over Minnesota-Crookston in the NSIC Tournament and Missouri Western State in the NCAA Central Region Tournament.

All in all, Dominic Austing posted a 3-0 record with a 5.40 ERA across 11 appearances and 5 starts as a true freshman. He struck out 37 over 36.2 innings, walking just 10 batters. He credited the strong 2016 senior class for his ability to stay productive throughout the campaign, and pointed to two players in particular that had an impact on his craft.

“I really looked up to Kyle Lieser,” Austing said, “He was always super good to me. He never treated me like I was a freshman. Alex Naasz was really good at that too. You could talk to those guys about just about anything and they’d have a smile on their face.”

As 2016 rolled into 2017, the Huskies had a massive graduating class to fill, primarily on the position player side, but leaking into the pitching staff as well. The Huskies had two weekend spots, both midweeks, their closer, and a bevy of relief roles needing to be sorted out. Austing had an inside track on one of the starting rotation spots after his strong freshman output, but he’d be the last person to say he expected a big role as a sophomore.

“I don’t know that I looked at it as a role I expect to have,” explained Austing, “That was a season where everything was wide open, so you make your own fate, and I think that’s what I tried to do. I mean, there was a lot of talent still left, so it wasn’t a given. I knew Cal and Sheldon would be there. I didn’t expect to be the so-called ace, not that it really matters, but I knew that if I set myself up right and worked hard enough I could pick up a lot of innings.”

He began 2017 as a probable member of the weekend rotation, along with Miks, Giese, and Austin Caspersen, a senior transfer from NAIA school Doane University who had redshirted at SCSU in 2016. Austing began his season on Opening Day at U.S. Bank Stadium in relief of Miks, throwing 3.0 scoreless innings of one-hit ball while striking out three Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears. After struggling in his first start of the year against #7 Azusa Pacific at the Tucson Invitational, he made another scoreless relief outing versus Malone, striking out four over 3.2 innings of three-hit baseball. Once the Huskies moved into their NSIC schedule, Austing remained in the rotation for the rest of the season. His conference schedule began a little rocky, taking the loss at Sioux Falls after going 6.2 frames and allowing 5 runs, four earned on 10 hits despite walking none and striking out 9. He settled in comfortably after that outing, embarking on a 5-game winning streak. Over his final 9 starts, he posted a 6-1 record with a 2.61 ERA and a 2.38 FIP.

His best outing of the year came on the road at Minnesota-Crookston, earning NSIC Pitcher of the Week honors after twirling a complete game gem.

“I remember that game,” Austing said, “It got to be like the seventh inning, and I was dragging a little bit. It was pretty cold out that day, and I talked to the pitching coach and I said, ‘Maybe just a couple more pitches, or one more inning,’ and he tells me I have a no-hitter going. I guess I didn’t realize it at the time.”

He indeed had a no-hitter on his line but lost it on a Patrick Higgins two-out single in the seventh. Despite missing out on history, Austing still dominated by cruising through 9.0 innings and allowing just one unearned run on a hit, a walk, and 12 strikeouts. Austing capped off the year by sending archrival MSU-Mankato to the elimination round of the NCAA Central Region Tournament, earning the win by striking out 9 over 6.2 innings of two-run ball on 7 hits and 2 walks.

A major theme of 2017 was the loss of Sheldon Miks, who tore his UCL two starts into the season. St. Cloud State needed a pitcher to step up and take Miks’ innings. Austing did much more than just fill up the innings total, as he paired with Giese to make up one of the most formidable duos at the top of any NSIC rotation.

Austing posted a 7-3 record as a sophomore, pitching to the tune of a 3.36 ERA across 80.3 innings, 14 appearances and 12 starts. He fired four complete games and one shutout while holding opponents to a .245 batting average and a .622 OPS. Austing punched out batters at an eye-popping 28.4% clip and posted a miniscule 3.9% walk rate. Best of all, Austing produced the third-best FIP in the NSIC at 1.97, right behind elite Mankato and Augustana aces Dalton Roach and Jacob Blank.

Looking back, Austing rightfully viewed his 2017 season as a step in the right direction.

“I felt pretty good,” Austing said, “I think it was kind of a building year for me, I came into my own a little bit, got some confidence back. I learned how to pitch, learned how to use what I have to be successful. I had some bad games, naturally, but I think what I learned is that you can’t lose your confidence from one bad game, which I try to take with me year in and year out. It was a really fun year.”

Austing wrapped 2017 by making three starts for the St. Cloud Rox of the Northwoods League. He threw 17.0 innings to the tune of a 2.12 ERA, holding opponents to a .227 batting average. After hitting his innings limit, Austing was shut down in anticipation for the 2018 season.

As 2018 approached, Austing and Giese would be expected to anchor the staff, as Miks was unlikely to return to the starting rotation until 2019. However, those plans were foiled when Giese was diagnosed with an ulnar nerve injury, shutting him down for the entire season. Austing was now the Huskies unquestioned ace, with redshirt junior Kyle Boser operating as his number two after a breakout summer in the Northwoods.

Austing made his first career Opening Day start at Missouri Western State as the Huskies began their 2018 season, going 5.0 innings while allowing one earned on two hits and a pair of walks while striking out three and receiving the win. Austing didn’t think the Opening Day nod meant much to him outside of getting the win.

“No, not really,” Austing said, “I don’t care so much about the Opening Day start. Starting the first game counts just as much as a start in the middle of the season.”

The junior righthander dominated over his first handful of starts despite being forced to exit early a few times due to a blister issue. His first major bout of 2018 came against eventual Oakland A’s 13th rounder Gus Varland and Concordia-Paul. Major League scouts were in attendance to see Varland and his upper-90s fastball, but Austing, per the usual, focused only on his game and competing against one of the best pitchers in the conference.

“I like facing guys like that,” Austing said, “I think I pitch better when I face people that are successful. I kind of like it when people say, ‘He throws harder, he does this…’ I don’t really care. That’s not what it’s about. I mean, he’s a really good pitcher. What I like most about games like that is that everybody kind of steps up, it’s not just the pitching duel, it’s everybody. Everybody seems to focus in a little bit more, do their part a little bit better, which when we do that I don’t think there are many teams better than St. Cloud State.”

Austing outlasted Varland in an eventual extra-innings Huskies victory by firing 7.0 innings of one-run ball on 6 hits, no walks, and four strikeouts, taking a no decision. After throwing 4.0 scoreless against Sioux Falls and exiting early due to his blister issue, Austing readied for one of the most compelling series of 2018.

St. Cloud State traveled to Augustana for a midweek with the #3 Vikings, and a marquee matchup of aces Austing and future Minnesota Twins 24th rounder Jacob Blank would serve as the headliner for the tilt. The senior Blank hadn’t lost a start in his four-year career, and came into the start 5-0 with a 2.48 ERA. The two righthanders battled punch-for-punch. Blank exited in a 0-0 game after throwing 6.0 scoreless, allowing four hits and walking none while striking out four.

Austing delivered one of his finest starts of his career, firing 8.0 scoreless on three hits, no walks, and 6 strikeouts. He picked up the win as St. Cloud State scored two runs in the top of the ninth, upsetting the #3 team in the country. Blank took a no-decision, keeping his undefeated streak alive, but was outlasted and outpitched by the Huskies’ ace. In vintage form, Austing deflects praise while discussing the matchup.

“I don’t think anybody’s unbeatable,” Austing said, “It’s baseball, weird things happen. He’s a really good pitcher, I enjoyed watching him pitch. I think I see a little bit of myself in him. He attacks with his fastball, and then he’s got really good offspeed, I think his go-to is kind of his curveball/slider thing. It’s a lot of fun, because people like to look at him as the gold standard in the NSIC, which…that’s fine, people can look to whoever they want, I don’t really care. I like being the underdog. I don’t care if people know my name, it makes it a little more fun, I suppose.”

Following the Augustana start, Austing had his only true “poor outing” of the year on a chilly afternoon at UMD, allowing a season-high 10 hits and four earned runs over 7.0 innings. His confidence never subsiding, Austing rebounded by going on one of the greatest 5-start stretches in St. Cloud State history.

In his final five outings against Minnesota-Crookston, MSU-Mankato, Bemidji State, Winona State, and Central Oklahoma, Austing put together a run for the ages. The ace chartered a 5-0 record, throwing to the tune of a 0.83 ERA and a 1.63 FIP across 32.2 innings, with a .134/.171/.179 opponent slash line for an .350 OPS against with a 32.5% strikeout rate and a 2.6% walk rate, giving up just 3 extra base hits over that span with a 38-3 K-BB ratio.

Then-Huskies pitching coach Brett DeGagne spoke to Austing’s confidence as a major factor in his success.

“He was throwing all 3 pitches for strikes and just knew he was in control,” said DeGagne, “I haven’t seen many more confident individuals than he was over that stretch. He didn’t want to come out of games; he didn’t even want me making a mound visit. He knew he was going to succeed and nothing was going to stop him. His curveball really started to become an out pitch and to match that with his fastball and changeup, he was unhittable.”

Austing pointed to his routine as a major factor for his dominance.

“I think I was just able to get into my routine,” said Austing, “I figured out what made me feel good, what I wanted to do to be prepared for my next game. Me, Brett and Bo were on a pretty good page on how I wanted to attack hitters. If I’m able to get ahead and have control, I think I can usually keep that walk rate down, which I try to do, and as long as I can do that, the guys are going to make plays behind me. Success just comes naturally then.”

After going 5.0 scoreless and picking up the win in his NSIC Tournament start against Winona State, Austing capped off his 2018 season with arguably his best outing of the year. The junior was named HERO Sports Hero of the Week after his NCAA Central Region Tournament-opening win over Central Oklahoma, striking out 12 and allowing just three hits and one walk over 8.2 frames of two-run ball.

“That was a fun game,” Austing said, “I don’t always have all my pitches working, but in that game I felt that I had control of everything. It was nice and warm down there and I was pretty amped up, so I think my fastball had a little bit of pop to it.”

At the conclusion of 2018, Austing earned Second Team All-Region honors from ABCA/Rawlings and was named Second Team All-Conference. His overall numbers stood at a 7-1 record over 13 starts with a 1.94 ERA, a 2.10 FIP, and a 0.877 WHIP across 78.2 innings. The righthander struck out 76 and walked just 9 for rates of 24.3% and 2.9% respectively, holding opponents to a .211/.260/.267 slash line for a .526 OPS.

Austing did all this while operating as a two-way player for the first time since his Cathedral days. With a limited position player pool due to injuries, the Huskies had no backup infielders. With starting second baseman Aaron Hammann also serving as a key arm in the Huskies’ rotation, Dolan called upon Austing as his new second baseman when Hammann pitched. In 11 games and 4 starts as a position player, Austing hit .313 with a bloop ground-rule double.

“Oofda,” said Austing, grinning and shaking his head, “Dolan got me pretty early in the year, I don’t know if it was really approached with the idea, more so told. He told me that I would probably have to play second if Aaron pitched. Coming in he recruited me as a pitcher only, and I was A-OK with that, I like the pitcher only lifestyle. I don’t know, second base, it was okay. I’m not disappointed that we have a plethora of backup players this year for second base. 85 looks pretty fast when you’re not used to it, that’s what I learned from those few at-bats I had. I don’t know, I guess it was fun. I can say I did it, but I’m glad that’s in the past.”

Overall, Austing was pleased with his 2018 season, and thinks that he can be even better, as scary as that sounds for the competition.

“I think I have a lot to improve on,” said Austing, “I always will. It’s just the nature of the game. I hope to have a lot of success again this year. Last year was a lot of fun, it was a lot of building blocks. I think I established myself a little bit, gave people maybe something to look at, and I made a lot of memories with my teammates that I think I’ll never forget.”

Austing’s two best seasons so far have been 2017 and 2018, both years under the tutelage of DeGagne as his pitching coach. DeGagne pointed to a pair of improvements that Austing had made from the beginning of his sophomore year to the end of his junior campaign.


“Two things,” explained DeGagne, “His curveball and he made a big jump just in his realization of who he is. We worked on improving the spin of his breaking ball and relying on late hard break to pair with his sinker. Created a lot more swing and miss and didn’t rely on called strikes. And he mastered his routine and found what kept him healthy and performing at a high level. He does some unorthodox things to prepare, but we embraced that through our communication because he was easy to trust. You knew he was going to work his tail off, so it allowed him to personalize his plan to optimize his performance.”
 

DeGagne also spoke to Austing’s work ethic as a major reason for his success.

“To be successful, your best players have to be your hardest workers,” DeGagne said, “Dom embodies that. He has figured out what makes him perform at a very high level, and he won’t settle for less. He always got his work in and then some, no matter the adversity, such as no weight room at the hotel, long travel, shortened practices, etcetera. He demands excellence from himself and other around him by people wanting to mimic his success. He shows the blueprint of what it takes every day.”

First-year Huskies pitching coach Kassidy Gaines has been equally impressed with his new ace’s hard-working nature.

“Dom is a great kid who always has a smile on his face and is very business-like when it is necessary,” said Gaines, “He is a player who loves to be challenged and has been great to coach. No question the hardest worker I have had the pleasure of working with, and is a psycho. In the baseball world, being called a psycho is a huge compliment and for him and his work ethic, there is not a better fitting word to describe his  persona when it comes to the playing field and his work ethic.”

Gaines, rightly so, has major expectations for Austing.

“Expectations are big for Dom Austing and they are expectations he has set for himself,” Gaines said, “One thing is for certain when Dom is on the mound: you are getting 100 percent. As a pitching coach, that is all you can ask for.”

With his senior season just under a month away, St. Cloud State’s ace will be rejoined by All-Americans Miks and Giese, forming a weekend rotation better than most, if not all, in the Country. Austing’s more than excited for what 2019 has to bring.

“I’m really excited, just like everybody else is,” said Austing, “I think it’s going to be really cool, seeing how everything comes together. I mean, you can write whatever you want on paper at the beginning of the year, that’s never how it ends. There’s going to be roles that guys have to fill, things are going to change, somebody’s probably going to get hurt. I always just enjoy seeing how people grow, how the team grows.”

He also has a few ideas for what the team can do to meet their lofty expectations.

“I think we just have to focus on not getting too high, not getting too low,” Austing said, “We’re going to lose games, that’s just how it works. We’re going to win, hopefully, quite a few more games than we lose. I think if we’re able to stay healthy and just keep playing our game, what we’re doing best, not trying to play to the stat line, play to our opponent, we should be able to make a pretty good dent in the competition this year.”

Three Times the Arm

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12/12/2018 - 10:55 AM

Three Times the Arm
Huskies righthander Nathan Strobel

 

A little less than nine months ago, St. Cloud State righthanded pitcher thought his baseball career was finished.

 

The fifth-year junior had exited his outing on March 30th at the University of Sioux Falls after feeling a sharp pain in his throwing arm as he delivered a pitch. As soon as the ball left his hand, he buckled over, dropped his glove, shouted for his pitching coach and began walking towards his dugout. A whirlwind of emotions ensued, as Strobel feared the worst: a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL), an injury that had robbed him of nearly two seasons earlier in his career.

 

The injury gave Strobel a chance to reflect on his playing career, perhaps for a final time.

 

Of the 16 seniors on the 2019 St. Cloud State Baseball roster, Nathan Strobel has the distinction of being the “most senior,” as he'll be turning 24 in May. A 2013 graduate of Republic High School in Republic, Missouri, Strobel was a two-time All-District and First Team All-Conference selection as a prep. He dominated on the mound, going 5-1 with 58 strikeouts over 52.0 innings as a junior. He started three years in centerfield, a position he’s confident he could still handle.        

 

“Oh, absolutely!” Strobel bragged with a grin, “You can take the cat out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the cat, right?!”      

 

College teams were more interested in his electric right arm, and the potential of easy 90 mile per hour fastballs drew in plenty of programs. One of the first schools to show serious interest in Strobel was Missouri Southern State University, an NCAA Division II program in Joplin, Missouri. The Lions began recruiting Strobel late in his junior year. The competitor in Strobel gave him the desire to play for a successful program, and Missouri Southern showed him that promise by winning a 2013 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) Championship. 

 

“They were coming off of a conference championship in my freshman year,” remembered Strobel, “That was a really big deal for me, going to a program that was going to compete and win all the time. I just kind of clicked with the coaches when I was on my visit, and really liked what they had. It was close to home, and it really was a no-brainer for me at first.”     

 

Strobel began his 2014 true freshman season as most first year pitchers do, near the bottom of the pecking order. He made his collegiate debut against, ironically, future St. Cloud State conference rival Minnesota-Crookston on February 16th, 2014. The righty cruised through 2.0 shutout innings, working around three hits and a walk while striking out three. He picked up another scoreless outing in his next appearance, striking out the side and allowing a hit at Lincoln. After allowing one earned run over 1.1 relief frames and taking the loss in his next outing at Missouri S&T, the first of three outings that haunt his career took place on March 9th at Emporia State. Something didn’t feel right for Strobel as he warmed up.        

 

“I kind of felt a pop on one of my warmup pitches,” Strobel recounted, “It wasn’t immediate pain or anything, so I wasn’t too concerned.”      

 

Strobel said the soreness felt stranger as he continued throwing, and as he began his appearance, everything seemed to go haywire. His velocity was down, and his control seemed to go by the wayside. All four batters he faced reached, and he was promptly removed from the game and scheduled for tests. A few weeks later he received the diagnosis. 

 

He had Ulnar Nerve Entrapment Syndrome and needed to undergo Ulnar Tunnel Release Surgery. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, ulnar nerve entrapment syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve in the arm becomes compressed or irritated, often at the elbow. His 2014 season was over.  

 

“It was tough,” said Strobel, “because for the first couple of months we couldn’t figure out what it was.”   

 

After initial tests for a torn UCL were negative, Strobel ultimately found his diagnosis at the Dr. Andrews Clinic in Birmingham. He received a medical redshirt for his first season, saving him an extra year of eligibility. Near the end of his redshirt freshman fall at Missouri Southern, Strobel decided to transfer, desiring somewhere he could focus on development after his lost first season. He set his sights on Allen County Community College in Iola, Kansas.   

 

“I knew that I needed to get somewhere where I could be a little bit more focused on development, and JUCO is a good place to do that,” Strobel recounted, “One of my buddies had gone there, I talked with the coach, and we really hit it off. He told me his plan for getting me back to where I needed to be     

 

Like most young pitchers in their first season off elbow surgery, Strobel struggled to maintain consistency. He made 9 appearances with 6 starts for the Red Devils in 2015, chartering a 6.31 ERA and a 5.01 FIP across 25.2 frames. Despite the struggles statistically, he found success in staying healthy and progressing to his pre-surgery form.       

 

“The number one goal for me was to get my velocity back,” said Strobel, “For what we had, that was the most measurable thing that I could see to feel whether or not I was back to where I wanted to be. After that, it was trying to get a feel back for all my pitches, and that didn’t really happen until the end of the season.”

 

Strobel approached 2016 his redshirt sophomore campaign hungry for a second consecutive healthy season. As it ended up, he made just three appearances.           

In his third outing (and second start) of the year, Strobel cruised through the first 4.1 innings against Butler Community College, striking out a career-high 6 batters. He vividly remembers the pitch that dashed his career for the second time.   

 

“Oh yeah,” Strobel says, smiling in spite of himself, “That fifth inning was cut short because of that pitch. It was just immediate. I threw it, fastball, felt it, and I just walked off the field. I knew immediately.”

 

He underwent an MRI and received a diagnosis a few weeks later. This time, he did tear his UCL. Handed a one-way ticket to Tommy John Surgery, Strobel had reached the next itineration of his baseball journey. His 2016 season was over, and there was slim chance of being ready to pitch in 2017.           

 

As Strobel rehabbed post-Tommy John, he spent the 2016-17 school year away from collegiate baseball. He took a few classes at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, and had a few tryout style workouts with the Drury Panthers baseball team. He also coached high school baseball for a local school.

One focus for Strobel in his off year was conditioning, as he had slipped a bit in that area during his injury recoveries. He had pondered playing for Drury, but he hadn’t yet returned to form by the start of the season. Healthy at last in the beginning of the summer, Strobel began the search for his next team. A close friend and two-year teammate at Allen County told him he had a home waiting for him in Minnesota.          

 

Nathan Strobel holds nothing back when asked how large an impact Caeden Harris had on bringing him to St. Cloud State University.        

 

“One hundred percent,” Strobel laughed, “That’s the reason. He told me even when I was rehabbing and didn’t know if I was going to throw again, he said, ‘Well, you need to, you need to get up here, I think we could use you, and you’d have a great time. You’d love it here.’ He talked to Dolan, brought me up here, got on a visit, and I said, ‘You know what, you’re right.’ I met the guys, loved the facilities, and I thought I’d really fit in here.”       

 

Strobel committed to the Huskies soon thereafter. Harris had played two seasons with Strobel at Allen County, redshirted with SCSU in 2017 and posted a 1.045 OPS as the Huskies’ starting left fielder in 2018.

 

In the fall of 2017, Strobel quite literally blew his new coaching staff away with his finally-healthy arsenal, flashing low-90s heat and a plus slider in the lower 80s. He was named the team’s closer heading into 2018, replacing the graduated Miles Nablo. The righthander was happy to see his velocity back to its peak form but found consistency of his control and command to still be lacking. 

 

Strobel recorded a stellar 1.84 ERA over 8 relief outings in 2018 going 1-1 with 2 saves. He threw 14.2 innings out of the pen, posting a 21.4% strikeout rate and a 10% walk rate along with a strong .677 opponent OPS. His spray stats were outstanding, as he worked at a 52.3% ground ball rate and a team-low 15.9% opponent hard hit rate. His FIP was a tad high at 4.19, although typical post-TJ early season command struggles led to high walk and hit-by-pitch numbers, accounting for the anomaly given his pure stuff. Finally, Strobel was enjoying success as an elite closer for a highly competitive team.

 

Then came the third itineration of Strobel’s injury bouts: March 30th, 2018.

 

St. Cloud State was in the third game of a weekend series on the road at the University of Sioux Falls. Strobel had been called upon out of the pen in the fifth inning, striking out both men he faced to strand a pair and preserve a 0-0 score. A rocky defensive inning in the sixth allowed two unearned runs to score, but Strobel came back out in the seventh. After forcing a quick lineout, Strobel fired the pitch that was thought to have ended his playing career.

 

“This one was a little bit different,” Strobel remembered, “It had kind of been nagging since I went out there for the second inning. It didn’t really hurt, like the first time I didn’t really think it was anything wild. I was like, alright, I’ll keep throwing. It was a fastball. I put one low on him, and I was like, that’s it. That one hurt too much. It didn’t really feel the same as when I popped my UCL, so I wasn’t really sure what was going on.”

 

As soon as the ball left his hand, he dropped his glove, clutched his arm, called for his pitching coach and walked to the dugout. Strobel’s season, and his career, was feared to be over. The initial diagnosis was another torn UCL. Assuming he wouldn’t be able to pitch in 2019, Strobel didn’t receive an MRI until mid summer. The final diagnosis left Strobel stunned, excited and jubilant all at once.

 

He had a torn forearm flexor, not a torn UCL. In fact, the doctors informed him that his flexor tear had healed so well that he would be fine in a few weeks. The Huskies had their closer back for the eagerly-anticipated 2019 season.

 

“I was really excited when I first got the diagnosis,” Strobel beamed, “Probably the most frustrating part for me was that I knew how good we were going to be this year, and that I wasn’t going to be part of that and help out somehow. That was a big relief for me, knowing that I would be able to come back and play with all the guys and compete for a World Series.”

 

Strobel went through a slow return-to-throw program as part of his nonsurgical flexor rehab. He had no significant setbacks and hasn’t experienced pain in quite some time. Due to a few class scheduling conflicts, he was unable participate in fall ball with the Huskies but has been throwing off a mound on his own and feels back to his normal self.

 

It’s been a long time coming, but Nathan Strobel is finally healthy and ready to roll as one of the best high-leverage stoppers in Division II.

 

“I definitely expect to pick up where I left off last year,” Strobel said confidently, “I felt pretty good before that injury, and I don’t think there’s any reason that I shouldn’t come out and be just like that again.”

 

All-American Aces

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11/14/2018 - 7:45 PM

All-American Aces
Miks and Giese each make their return to the weekend rotation in 2019

As St. Cloud State baseball prepared for their 2017 season, two lefthanders were projected to lead the starting rotation.

 

Two-time All-American and reigning NSIC Pitcher of the Year Sheldon Miks was to be counted on as the staff ace in his junior campaign, and redshirt sophomore Cal Giese looked to build upon a stellar first season in which he earned the win in the Huskies’ 2016 NSIC Tournament Championship game.

 

The expectations for the duo to anchor the rotation were dashed just five games into the season, as Miks was pulled from his second start of the year after feeling a pop in his elbow. He wouldn’t throw another pitch in 2017 and underwent Tommy John Surgery in June. Giese took the reigns as the Huskies ace, earning First Team All-NSIC honors and being named Second Team All-Central Region by ABCA/Rawlings.

 

Entering 2018, most pundits were aware that Miks would likely miss most of, if not all the season. However, hopes were high for Giese, as the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) named him a Preseason All-American.

 

Giese didn’t throw a single pitch for the Huskies, as he had been dealing with an elbow issue dating back to his lone 2017 Northwoods League start. He underwent surgery on his elbow in April, effectively ending his season. Miks did make his return to the mound after being cleared for short relief work in late April, but in all it had been a lost season from the two.

 

In 2019 SCSU will finally find their weekend rotation anchored by the two redshirt senior All-Americans, a dream that began all the way back in 2014.

 

Miks and Giese had just wrapped their senior seasons of high school baseball. Miks was a Mr. Minnesota Baseball finalist in his final campaign at Shakopee High School while also earning his second All-State and third All-Section and All-Minneota Conference accolades. Giese had finished a stellar career at Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH), picking up All-State and All-Region honors and being named the #22 prospect in the state of Wisconsin by highly-regarded Prep Baseball Report. Each player had an interesting story as they made their commitments to St. Cloud State.

 

Giese remembered throwing to an old ally in his bullpen for the Huskies’ coaching staff.

 

“I think it was junior year. Dolan came and watched a few high school games, and then I think he watched one of my legion games in the summer. He asked me to come visit, I came and visited St. Cloud in the summer with a few other people…We threw a bullpen in front of him, we actually threw to Michael Jurgella at the time when he was here, which was kinda cool because he went to my high school.”

 

Giese received an offer to become another SPASH product to play for the Huskies on that same visit, and later accepted.

 

Miks’ story was a little interesting.

 

“I actually was coming back from my cabin and got a voicemail from a number I didn’t know. I tried to play the voicemail, it was Dolan, and my phone died so I didn’t actually get to hear the rest of it. I ended up getting a new phone and got another call, and I came on a visit.”

 

Like Giese, Miks received an offer on his visit and later accepted.

 

As Opening Day 2015 loomed, it didn’t appear like Giese and Miks would be together for five seasons.

 

Giese was an accounting major, wasn’t bringing in any college credits, and planned on being on campus for five years. Combining his academic plans with the veteran Huskies staff, he redshirted in 2015.

 

Miks was expected to play a role on the Huskies staff as a true freshman, and made a statement attesting to those projections in his collegiate debut.

 

The 6’4 lefthander fired 7.0 innings in his first start on March 1st, 2015 at Harding University, allowing just 2 unearned runs on 4 hits and a walk while striking out 4. Eight days later at the Tucson Invitational, he delivered his first career complete game against Arizona Christian, allowing an earned run on 8 hits with 4 punchouts. Miks quickly ascended to the top of the Huskies’ rotation, joining Reese Gregory, Garrett Harrison, Ryan Diers, and Logan Spitzak as one of the most formidable rotations in the Nation.

 

Miks produced one of the greatest seasons in St. Cloud State history, going 10-2 with a 1.15 ERA, a 2.45 FIP, and a 0.837 WHIP across 86.0 innings. He appeared in 16 games with 12 starts, twirling 7 complete games and 4 shutouts. He struck out 59 and walked just 11, holding opponents to a mind-blowing slash line of .196/.225/.244 for a .469 OPS against. His strikeout rate stood at 18.1%, with a miniscule walk rate of 3.4%. The lefty earned a laundry list of accolades, being named a Daktronics DII All-American, NCBWA All-Central Region, NSIC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-NSIC, and was selected to the NSIC All-Tournament Team.

 

Sheldon credited both his tremendous lineup and his All-American senior catcher, Michael Jurgella, for his success.

 

Regarding Jurgella, Miks praised the backstop’s IQ for the game.

 

“He was always two steps ahead of everything. He always knew what was going to happen, as far as pitch-calling, and we were always on the same page. He put down a number, I nodded my head, and that was pretty much how it went. I already had the grip in my hand, and he made it so simple. I didn’t have to think, and I could just go throw.”

 

His first career postseason start still stands as one of his best collegiate outings, as he struck out 9 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in a complete game two-hit shutout to send the Huskies to Championship Sunday of the 2015 NSIC Tournament.

 

He faltered in the NCAA Central Region Tournament, taking his first two losses of his career. Both came at the hands of Henderson State University, the first coming in the Tournament opener. Miks allowed 9 runs, just 2 earned, over 7.1 innings. He surrendered 9 hits and walked one while striking out 5. A three-run 5th inning home run by Claude Johnson after a two-out error by Kyle Lieser put the Reddies in front, then an error in the eighth turned into four more unearned runs.

 

The #1 ranked Huskies fought their way back into the Central Region Championship game against Henderson State. SCSU knocked Reddies swingman Luke Tebbetts out of the game in the third, leading 7-2. Henderson brought the game even at 7 in the eighth after receiving a dominant 6.0 inning effort from fireman reliever Jordan Taylor. With the season on the line, St. Cloud State first turned to 13-0 NSIC Pitcher of the Year Reese Gregory for an inning plus, then brought Miks out of the pen for the bottom of the 10th. Miks promptly surrendered a double to A.J. Kruzel, then a walk-off single by Hayden Lessenberry after a sacrifice bunt ended the Huskies season.

 

After the heart-wrenching end to the St. Cloud State season, Miks joined the St. Cloud Rox of the Northwoods League. Facing elite college baseball talent every outing, his legend grew even more with a dominant summer performance.

Miks posted a 5-1 record across 13 appearances, starting 8 games and posting a 2.74 ERA and a 2.84 FIP across 49.1 innings for the Rox. He struck out 49, walked 14, recorded a 1.196 WHIP, and held opponents to an ugly .590 OPS.

 

The experience helped him greatly.

 

“It was eye-opener, more than anything. It’s just such a grind, to go out to the baseball field every single day and try and compete against top-tier talent. That was the biggest thing for me, was I needed to focus every single day, and then have my best stuff every single day, otherwise it was going to be a struggle. You can’t get away with making a few bad pitches in an at-bat with some of those hitters, otherwise they’re going to punish you.”

 

He also made a significant connection with his future pitching coach, then-University of North Dakota weekend starter Brett DeGagne.

 

“He came a little later in the season, probably three weeks in, and we were at Waterloo. He showed up, and everybody was kind of wondering who the new guy was. So I got to talking with him, we hit it off, and from there on out we pretty much worked out and played catch every day for the rest of the summer. That was one guy who really had a big impact on developing a mental side of the game for me.”

 

Following his summer in the Woods’, all eyes were on St. Cloud State entering the 2016 season.

 

The sophomore Miks would serve as the staff “Ace A” to senior Reese Gregory’s “Ace B”, and the Huskies boasted a senior-laden lineup featuring Gregory, Lieser, Brandon Arnold, Karl Sorenson, Zach Hoffmann, and Zak Hoffman. With Spitzak moving into Gregory’s closing role and Harrison graduated, the Huskies had a few questions needing to be answered in their rotation.

 

Cal Giese made his collegiate debut on the big stage at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, striking out 5 and allowing 2 earned runs over 2.0 relief frames against St. Mary’s University. He won his first career start at the Tucson Invitational against Briar Cliff, working 5.0 innings and allowing 3 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks, punching out 7. He primarily spent his redshirt freshman season as a starter for SCSU, making two more relief outings along the way.

 

Giese chartered a 7-2 record over his 10 appearances and 7 starts, throwing 44.2 innings to the tune of a 4.03 ERA. His FIP stood at stellar 2.83, just behind Gregory as second-best on the staff among starters. He struck out 61 and walked 14, producing strong rates of 28.4% and 6.5% respectively. The strikeout rate tied him with Bolder for the highest among Huskies with at least 3 appearances.

 

Much like his counterpart Miks, Giese’s first collegiate postseason start was a memorable one.

 

The lefthander received the win in the Huskies’ 2016 NSIC Tournament Championship-clinching 6-4 victory over Concordia-St. Paul, dealing 5.0 innings of 5-hit ball and allowing 2 earned while striking out 5.

 

Giese played with his hometown Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League following the 2016 season, going 3-3 with a 3.79 FIP over 12 appearances and 7 starts.

 

Miks’ 2016 wasn’t too shabby either.

 

He made his season debut on February 7th with a complete-game victory over the University of Central Missouri at Minute Maid Park, allowing one run across 9.0 innings on 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out a career-high 12, earning NSIC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. Better feel for his cutter allowed his strikeout numbers to jump in his sophomore campaign.

 

The Huskies’ ace posted another dominant season, going 8-3 with a 1.96 ERA and a 2.96 FIP across 87.1 innings, making 16 appearances and 11 starts. He struck out 79 and walked just 8, finishing with a 1.122 WHIP, a .667 opponent OPS, a 21.8% K rate and an eye-popping 2.2% walk rate. Miks was named an NCBWA Honorable Mention All-American, NCBWA Central Region Pitcher of the Year, NSIC Pitcher of the Year, Consensus NCBWA First Team All-Region, a Tomko Award Top 10 Finalist, a member of the NSIC All-Tournament Team, and First Team All-NSIC.

 

For the second straight season, Miks sent SCSU to Championship Sunday of the NSIC Tournament, setting the stage for Giese in the clincher. Sheldon fired 7.0 scoreless frames of 6-hit ball against Concordia-St. Paul, striking out 9.

In the 2016 NCAA Central Region Tournament, the Huskies lost 1-0 in the opening game, a memorable 11 inning thriller to Minnesota State-Mankato.

 

Miks was handed the ball with the season on the line the next morning against Missouri Western State but was pulled about 50 pitches in after the Huskies took a 6-1 lead after two. SCSU’s next elimination game came versus Emporia State the next day. Up a run in the top of the sixth, the Huskies turned to Miks out of the bullpen. Just a day after throwing around 50 pitches, he fired 125 pitches across 7.0 innings of 3-run ball, taking the season-ending loss in extras.

 

Despite coming up short once again in the NCAA Regional Tournament and graduating nearly their entire lineup, St. Cloud State still had plenty of areas to be excited about entering 2017.

 

Chief among them was Sheldon Miks’ hyped-up junior season.

 

Miks received his first career Opening Day start at U.S. Bank Stadium against Gus Varland and the Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears, tossing 4.0 innings of 3-run ball on 7 hits and 4 strikeouts. A mistake changeup to CSP’s Zach Elder turned into a game-deciding 2-run shot to dead center, giving Miks his first loss of the year.

 

On March 6th, the Huskies took on Southwest Minnesota State at the Tucson Invitational. The Huskies led 3-0 going into the bottom of the third. Then came a moment that would dramatically change the course of St. Cloud State’s season.

 

It’s best to let Sheldon Miks tell this part of the story.

 

“I threw a curveball to Metzger. And I threw it about 40 feet. 40, 50 feet. I felt a pop in my elbow. So I’m kind of sitting there on the mound a little bit, and I catch the ball back from Metzger. I kind of walk around the mound, take a second…I get back on the mound, and Metzger noticed something, so from then on he called just fastballs. Eight pitches later I get out of the inning, Metzger comes up to me, and he goes ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘Well, I felt a pop in my elbow and it hurts to throw.’ I sat down on the bench, DeGagne comes up to me and kind of asked the same question, and I said, ‘I’m done. It hurts to even throw a fastball.’”

 

David Kroger and Zach Siggelkow finished off the Huskies’ win, but the team’s concern was on Miks’ left elbow. The ace was shut down and underwent an MRI. He received the diagnosis during the Huskies’ NSIC Regular Season opener on the road at the University of Sioux Falls.

 

He had torn his left Ulnar Collateral Ligament.

 

Tommy John Surgery.

 

“I had the MRI a few weeks later after we got back from Arizona, we were on a road trip at Augie. I was shagging foul balls, and our trainer came up to me and said we need to talk. I kind of knew what it was about. And she goes, ‘Well, it’s torn.’ I said, ‘Okay, well, so what’s the next step?’ There was a lot of things going through my mind at that time, and it was…it was pretty tough, mentally, to know that I was done for the rest of the year and probably the following year…it was a lot of emotion going through my head at that one instance. I still remember that to this day. I just kind of sat out there in the outfield. I was actually behind the fence, shagging home run balls, because Augustana’s fence is short. I just kind of sat there, and just kind of thought for the thirty minutes that we took BP.” Miks remembered.

 

Suddenly, the Huskies no longer had their ace. They needed someone to step up and fill the massive void left in their weekend rotation.

 

And boy, did Cal Giese step up in his redshirt sophomore season.

 

The southpaw went 9-2 with a 1.86 ERA and a 2.01 FIP across 13 starts and 72.2 innings, striking out 19 and holding opponents to a .238/.293/.275 slash line for a .568 opponent OPS. Giese struck out hitters at a 26.2% clip while issuing walks at just a 6.3% rate. He was named NCBWA Honorable Mention All-Central Region, ABCA/Rawlings Second Team All-Central Region, and First Team All-NSIC.

 

One of his many stellar starts was a duel with undefeated 2017 NCBWA Division II Pitcher of the Year Jacob Blank and the Augustana Vikings in game two of the 2017 NSIC Tournament. Giese struck out 8 over 6.0 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks as both he and Blank took no-decisions in the eventual Huskies victory.

 

Giese then carved up Missouri Western State in the Huskies’ first NCAA Central Region Tournament game, firing 6.0 shutout innings of 4-hit baseball, walking none and striking out 7 Griffons as he won his ninth game of the year.

Following SCSU’s Regional exit, Giese rejoined the Rafters in the Northwoods League. After his first start, Giese felt something was amiss.

 

“I had some elbow pain in my first Northwoods start that summer, I think it was June 2nd or June 3rd. I threw 5.0 innings, still threw fine, but I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to get this checked out,’ and I stopped playing baseball for the rest of the summer. I had a couple MRI’s, nothing UCL damage, nothing wrong with it. I went to Dr. Buss in Minneapolis, and he said, ‘Your ulnar nerve is flipping over your bone in your elbow.’”

 

Giese underwent Ulnar Nerve Transposition Surgery on April 3rd.

The NCBWA wasn’t aware of Giese’s injury, naming him a Preseason All-American.

 

St. Cloud State battled through their 2018 season without their two All-American rotation anchors. Despite a pitching staff held together with pins and needles and just 10 healthy position players, the Huskies made yet another NCAA Central Region Tournament appearance, largely due to the emergence of new staff ace and then-junior righthander Dominic Austing.

 

Just before the 2018 NSIC Tournament, Sheldon Miks was cleared for short relief. The Huskies fell behind 7-3 at Bemidji State on April 28th.

326 days removed from Tommy John Surgery, the two-time All-American trotted out of the bullpen for his first appearance since the fateful start against SMSU.

 

He’ll never forget that moment.

 

“Warming up in the bullpen, I remember, we got down kind of early into that game, so I kind of knew I was coming in. Warming up, I felt pretty good, or good enough to where I was confident, and felt that my arm wasn’t going to implode on me. I remember running out to the mound, our parents had a little bleacher right by our dugout, and they gave me a pretty good applause. That was probably one of the coolest things that I’ve had happen to me in my career. Jogging out to the mound, hearing all those parents cheering for me…that was…something that I will remember for a long time.” said Miks.

 

Miks struck out the first batter he faced, swinging. Then, a flyout. He capped off the 1-2-3 inning by striking out Bemidji State great Scott Litchy on three pitches.

 

Huskies closer Nathan Strobel had gone down with an injury earlier in the season, so Miks was inserted as the new SCSU stopper out of the pen’. He picked up a save in the Huskies’ NCAA Central Region Tournament win over Central Oklahoma, allowing a single before striking out the last batter of the game.

 

The lefthander threw 3.0 innings in his 3 appearances of 2018, allowing just 1 hit and striking out 5.

 

Both Miks and Giese have been cleared to return to their roles as starters in their redshirt senior seasons. Miks will be almost two years removed from Tommy John, while Giese’s surgery is relatively low-impact on post-operation production.

 

With the NSIC’s move to three-game weekend series' in 2019, the Huskies are in position to boast arguably the best weekend rotation in the Nation. Dominic Austing will likely be named a Preseason All-American, giving SCSU three All-Americans on their weekend staff. Combining 2018 Division II NJCAA All-American Blake Flint, debatably the NSIC’s best swingman in Kyle Boser; Strobel, Matt Butler, Zach Walz, Zach Iten, Shannon Ahern, Aaron Hammann, DJ Wyman, Matt Osterberg, and Trevor Koenig, the Huskies have the deepest staff they’ve had in years.

 

After years of heartbreaking Regional exits, Miks and Giese think the missing piece has been found.

 

“I think this is the deepest staff of the teams I’ve been on, and I think having a strong bullpen and having options as starters. Yeah it’s great to have three or four locked-in starters, but having options of guys that can throw fifth, sixth, seventh games if needed, having that option and also knowing that games can be shut down with great guys out of the bullpen is one of the most important keys to making deep runs in the playoffs.” said Giese.

 

Miks concurred, “Yeah, this is hands-down the deepest staff I’ve ever been a part of. Even my freshman year, when we went 55-4 or whatever it was, we only had Gregory, Harrison, Spitzak, Diers, if you want to include me. I mean, that’s five guys…we have top to bottom, its 18 guys that can go out there and put up 3.0-4.0 scoreless innings on any given day.”

 

It’s not exactly the dream the St. Cloud State fans had five years ago, but the stars certainly seem to be aligning in 2019 as the program hunts for its first College World Series appearance.

 

The Next Great St. Cloud State Catcher

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11/05/2018 - 10:45 AM

The Next Great St. Cloud State Catcher
Toran Shahidi

In head coach Pat Dolan’s tenure at St. Cloud State University, elite catchers setting up shop in the Huskies’ lineup has been the norm.

 
Dolan’s top-rate catcher tradition began with the Nate Hammes era, spanning from 2008 to 2010. Hammes posted three straight seasons with an OPS of .888 or better, while driving in 40+ runs in 2009 and 2010. The former Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bear also gunned down runners at a 25.9% clip over his SCSU career. His backup in 2009, Jeremy Ische, was recently named head coach at Upper Iowa.
 
After Hammes’ graduation, Travis Enger took over as SCSU’s backstop in 2011, slashing .339/.397/.441 while posting a 32.6% caught stealing rate in his redshirt-freshman season and finishing his career with back-to-back seasons with a caught stealing rate better than 40.0%. In the following season, redshirt-freshman Michael Jurgella joined the fray, sharing time with the defensive-minded Enger from 2012 to 2014. In his four seasons at SCSU, Jurgella’s OPS never dipped below .870, and had an OPS of 1.000+ in his redshirt-junior and senior years. His senior campaign was a monster one, slashing .399/.482/.690 for a 1.172 OPS, 16 doubles, 2 triples, 14 bombs, and 64 RBI.
 
The Zach Metzger era began in 2016, as the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi transfer caught 42 games for the Huskies in his junior season. “Metz” gunned down baserunners at a 37.0% clip and posted an OPS of .774 while handling a pitching staff that contained two All-Americans in Reese Gregory and Sheldon Miks. Metzger’s 2017 senior season started splendidly, but an injury to his knee cut his year short, opening the door for junior Bemidji State transfer and St. Cloud Cathedral grad Bo Schmitz to take the reigns behind the dish. Despite the injury, Metzger clubbed 10 doubles and drove in 26 runs in 28 games, posting an OPS of .898 and leading the NSIC with a 50.0% caught stealing rate. Schmitz led SCSU with 58 runs scored, slashed .328/.414/.419 and belted 9 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 home runs while stealing 10 bags. As a senior in 2018, Bo capped off his Huskies career by slashing .359/.422/.558 and led the team with 8 home runs to go with 44 RBI.
 
As the Huskies’ 2018 campaign wrapped up at the NCAA Central Region Tournament in May, SCSU graduated four seniors: starting centerfielder Jackson Goplen, starting designated hitter Isaac Matchinsky, reliever Logan Sandgren, and Schmitz. Dolan and his staff had essentially wrapped up their recruiting by this time, with a talented class of prep stars and JUCO transfers coming in to fill the Huskies’ opening roles. However, one position remained unfilled.
 
The Huskies needed a veteran, high-impact catcher, and they had none on roster.
 
Enter Toran Shahidi.
 
The 5’6, 180-pound backstop spent five seasons as the starting catcher at Ames High School in Ames, Iowa, graduating in 2014. Entering his senior season, he had no idea if he would have the opportunity to play college baseball.
 
“Going into my senior season of high school, I didn’t know (if) I was going to play college baseball. I was 5-foot-6, 145 pounds…I had no chest on me, I had no arms, I couldn’t really squat that much, I couldn’t bench. I was weak. I was physically inferior to my competition at the higher levels. But…I outplayed my tools with heart, being smarter than everyone else. I did my best every single day, I worked my butt off. It was a goal of mine to get a college scholarship at the college level, I just didn’t know what level. Kirkwood came and saw me at a tournament, I did good, and they offered me a scholarship.” Shahidi said.
 
Kirkwood Community College lies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Minnesota Twins Low-A affiliate. Shahidi’s intangibles, along with his talent, caught the eye of Eagles head coach Todd Rima.
 
Rima recounted, “The thing that stood out for us right away was two things. The way that Toran played the game. Tremendous energy, hard worker, loved the game, and then Toran just had an infectious personality. He was a guy that people wanted to be around, he was a leader, and we wanted that to be part of our program. That was a big piece of why we went after him, and he delivered that when he got here. He was exactly the kid that we thought we were getting, and we loved having him be a Kirkwood Eagle.”
 
Shahidi burst onto the scene as a freshman at Kirkwood, playing in 29 games and slashing .342/.473/.411 for an .883 OPS. The righthanded-hitting catcher walked at a 14.3% clip, clubbed 5 doubles, and drove in 9. His stellar arm flashed plus for the Eagles, nabbing 6 of 12 opposing baserunners. He spent the summer of 2015 in the Prospect League with the Quincy Gems of Quincy, Illinois, gaining experience with a wood bat. He struggled at the plate, largely due to a .191 BABiP.
 
Then, as he was preparing for his sophomore season in the fall of 2015, a nagging injury from the winter prior began to increase in severity.
 
Shahidi remembered, “In the winter of my freshman year at Kirkwood, there were me and a couple other guys that liked to play around with some hang cleans and power cleans after we got done with our team lift. I’m in there one day, doing some good amount of weight, I catch a clean and my right shoulder sinks down. I’m like ‘Ah, that’s nothing, I’ll be fine.’ About a week later, I start to notice bruises around my elbow, which is just blood pooling. I called my grandpa, he’s a physical therapist, and he says, ‘You probably tore something up in your shoulder, minor, you should be fine.’ Playing through the year, I couldn’t catch three or four games a week. I could catch two. I could catch two really good ones and I’d have nothing left. So I’m like, ‘Something’s up here. Maybe I’m tired, I’m not strong enough body-wise.’ I played the year, had a good year, then I went to summer ball and couldn’t throw anybody out. I’d get nothing on a throw to second…I go back to Kirkwood for my second year, and I’m feeling really good…I go in on my pro day. In high school I threw about 77-78 to second base. On my pro day I threw like 71.”
 
Soon thereafter, Shahidi went in to his strength coach for testing, and was told that he likely had a torn labrum. 
 
“I was like, ‘No, this is fake, this isn’t real, I’m probably fine, just needed rehab.’ I played the next day in our scrimmage as our DH, and I’m like eh, I feel fine. I was trying to beg my coaches to let me play, they wouldn’t do it because they knew I was hurt, so I call my dad to say something’s up here. One of my good high school friends, his dad runs all physical therapy out of Ames, Iowa…One of his good friends is the head surgeon for Iowa State. And he’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a catcher here, one of Sam’s friends, you need to help him out.’ So I’m set up for an appointment the next day on September 5th. I go in there for my appointment, and he says, ‘Yeah, you look really weak here. We need to get this checked. I want to set you up for an MRI here in an hour. I’m sitting here for a process that usually takes a couple weeks, and I’m getting it done in a day. They go in, they do the MRI, said they’d call me with the results on Monday. I wait till Monday, I’m sitting in class, get the call, walk into the hall, and he says, ‘Toran, you have a significant tear of your labrum. You’re going to need surgery.” And I’m just…I’m just sitting there in class, and I’m about ready to cry, because I know everything I’ve worked this hard for is right at my fingertips, and it’s going to be taken from me. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the recovery, I knew the return rate was very, very low, it’s like 20% recovery return to anything like what they were. I call my dad, we go back in to talk about setting up surgeries and when we’re going to do it, and he (the surgeon) says, ‘I can’t tell you that you’re ever going to catch again. You could probably play first base.’ Look at me. I’m 5’6 and 155 pounds at this time. I’m not going to play first base. I don’t hit for power, I don’t run, so it’s not going to work out. They did the surgery on October 5th. I had some dark times prior to it, just…depression, kind of worrying about it and not knowing if I’m ever going to get back to it. Have surgery on October 5th, and ever since then I’ve known who I was. That’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, and I’ve grown as a man doing it.”
 
Because of the injury, Shahidi was forced to redshirt in 2016. Rima remembers seeing his catcher’s tremendous character shining through during the trying year.
 
Said Rima, “You know, I think that’s tough on anybody. Toran loves the game, he loves to play, I think it was tough at first for him…The thing I really admired throughout it, Toran became a leader in not playing. And he brought energy to games and practices even when he couldn’t compete, the guys rallied around him a little bit, and that I really, really respected. You learn a lot about a kid when times get tough. And the way he handled it, I don’t if I’ve had a kid handle it as well as he did. And just to see that he had an impact on our team, even when he knew every day that he couldn’t play, I thought that was pretty special. I’ll always remember that about Toran.”
 
After a long and arduous recovery time, Shahidi made his return to competitive baseball with the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League late in the summer of 2016. Despite going from facing zero college pitching for nearly a year to matching up against some of the best arms in the country, Shahidi hit .235 with a .316 on-base percentage in 9 games for the Chucks’. 
 
Something seemed off for Toran as he readied for his 2017 redshirt-sophomore campaign, discovering that he needed contacts right before Kirkwood’s season began.
 
Shahidi posted a .252/.404/.364 slash line at Kirkwood in 2017, cumulating in a .769 OPS with 9 doubles, 1 home run, and 19 RBI. He again impressed defensively at catcher, but he was quick to point out that he didn’t produce as well as he thought he should.
 
“I could have been better. I could’ve been a better teammate. I could’ve been better at the plate. I had so many opportunities to help my team win games, and I just couldn’t come through. I was trying to do things offensively that just didn’t work, I was really choppy through the zone, I was trying to hit way too many nukes, I was not myself…I wasn’t me. Defensively, I was really good, offensively, I was just disappointed with myself that I couldn’t help my team.”
 
After a tremendous showing at a showcase, shining defensively and going 3-4, Shahidi received a call from the University of South Carolina-Upstate Spartans, a Division I NCAA program in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He went on a visit, and quickly committed.
 
At USC-Upstate, Shahidi served as the everyday DH while backing up Charlie Carpenter, selected by Atlanta in the 26th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, at catcher. Shahidi burst out of the gate early, his average holding steady between .280-.310, but then a cold spell dragged his production down. He struggled mightily for roughly half a month, his average dipping to .230 on April 8th after the Spartans’ road series at the University of North Florida. Then, in Upstate’s midweek road tilt with UNC-Asheville on Tuesday, April 10th, Shahidi figured it out.
 
“I’m taking BP, and my first round is hit-and-run, and I hit a ball over the third base dugout, I hooked it so bad. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘What is going on? Alright, we’re going to make a few changes here. Just going to make a few simple adjustments.”
 
And boy, did those adjustments work. Shahidi went 3-5, falling a triple shy of the cycle while belting his first NCAA DI home run. Over his final 17 games, including the springboard start against Asheville, Toran slashed .338/.417/.473 for an .890 OPS to go with 5 doubles, one triple, and the lone home run and 11 runs driven in. All in all, Shahidi posted a .280/.405/.379 slash line at Upstate with 11 doubles, the triple and home run, and 19 RBI across 43 games and 41 starts. He started 12 games behind the dish, with the remaining 29 starts coming at DH. While at catcher, Shahidi gunned down 28.6% of opposing baserunners, didn’t allow a single passed ball, and produced a .990 fielding percentage.
 
Four years removed from high school, Shahidi decided he wanted to finish off his collegiate career closer to home. He mutually parted ways with USC-Upstate and began his search for the “perfect fit” for his fifth-year senior campaign. 
 
Enter the Huskies.
 
St. Cloud State had spent the 2017-18 recruiting period recruiting Toran’s younger brother, Tavan, to fill their hole at catcher in 2019. Tavan committed to the University of Maryland in June, and while the Shahidi family was celebrating Tavan’s commitment at dinner, the newly-signed Terrapin pitched his older brother an idea.
 
“We’re sitting at dinner, for him, and he says, ‘You know where you’re going yet?’ I say, ‘I have no idea.’ He says, ‘Why don’t you go to Cloud?’ I say alright, I’ll check it out, and he shoots Dolan a text at dinner. He says, ‘Hey, my brother’s a DI kickback looking for a school for his fifth year. No more than five minutes later am I on the phone with Dolan, and this guy keeps talking about ‘Slam dunks,’ and ‘Oh, it’s gonna be a slam dunk for us if you come here!’ And I’m like, who is this guy? This guy’s way too nice to be a baseball coach here.”
 
Three days later, Toran made the trip to the Granite City to visit St. Cloud State. Of course, he brought Tavan along with him. He was blown away by his experience.
 
“I’m walking around campus, and Doc is showing me all these things and talking about it, and I am so impressed by the campus here. The people, everyone I met was top-notch, it was truly great. I’m walking around and I’m like, ‘I could see myself just going to school here.’ It didn’t hurt that he explained that they had 15 seniors coming back.”
 
About two weeks after his visit, Toran called Dolan with the news that he was going to be a Huskie.
 
With fall ball recently completed, SCSU associate head coach Doc Swendra raved about what the Huskies had seen out of their new starting catcher.
One trait caught his eye immediately.
 
“Great leadership. That’s what we expect out of our fifth-year seniors, that leadership, but he has it. It looks like, even the younger guys look up to him. You know, when you bring in a guy for one year like that sometimes you kind of wonder if they’re going to be able to fit in with the group of guys that are already there. He had no problem getting involved and getting to be friends with our guys. It didn’t take that long at all. First thing that comes to my mind is that leadership, he comes in with that mentality that ‘This is what we’re going to do to get the job done,’ and everybody respects that. As far as his game, you know, he’s a solid hitter. He can certainly hit the ball. When you’re playing big-time Division I and you can hit .280, .290; 11, 12 doubles, you know he can certainly produce at the Division II level. And that’s great for us. Defensively, he’s a great defensive blocking catcher. Strong arm, all the way around we know we got ourselves a pretty good ballplayer.” said Swendra.
 
Locked in and ready to help lead the St. Cloud State Huskies into a 2019 season full of promise and expectations, Toran Shahidi knows exactly what he’s here to do.
 
“We’re not here to get participation trophies and all that. We’re here to win a National Title. That takes grown men doing grown men things. On a field. With a ball. And a bat. And throwing it by people. And hitting it over the wall. We’re going to win games here, and I believe that this is the best team I’ve been a part of in a while, with a great group of guys that truly love each other. I’m so excited to be a part of this, that these guys have accepted me, and Coach Dolan has given me this chance to come in and finish off my college career like this. It’s a dream come true.”
 
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Shoulders, Elbows, Mavericks and Larks: The NSIC’s Unheralded Elite Reliever

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10/15/2018 - 10:00 AM

Shoulders, Elbows, Mavericks and Larks: The NSIC’s Unheralded Elite Reliever
Matt Butler delivers a pitch in the 2018 NSIC Tournament

It hasn’t been an easy path to success for St. Cloud State’s Matt Butler.

In the summer of 2017, the idea of success was practically unimaginable.

Butler had just completed his redshirt sophomore season, one that saw him make just three appearances out of a loaded Huskies bullpen. After debuting with a scoreless outing in the Tucson Invitational against #7 Azusa Pacific, allowing one hit and a walk while retiring one, Butler gave up one run on 2 hits and a walk against Oklahoma Panhandle State. Fourteen days later, he had the worst outing of his career at Wayne State College. Five runs, all earned, on 3 hits and 2 walks. Butler retired just one man before being pulled. He didn’t make another appearance for the rest of the spring.

Now, the 2017 St. Cloud State bullpen certainly wasn’t an easy one for a sophomore to find a role in. Not since 2011 had Head Coach Pat Dolan wielded such a deep stable of arms. Much like that year’s foursome of closer Ryne Schwenke and setup men Austen Bosch, Chris Kubitz, and David Koenig; 2017’s pen’ boasted the dominance of Miles Nablo’s 2.37 ERA and 7 saves, Kevin Bolder’s 3.38 ERA, David Kroger’s 4.42 FIP, and Kyle Boser’s 3.57 ERA and .516 OPS against. Mixing in plenty of relief outings for Aaron Hammann, Shannon Ahern, and Zach Siggelkow, innings were very difficult to come by for a righthander that had struggled with injuries and consistency.

When Matt Butler committed to SCSU during his senior year of high school in Naperville, Illinois, he was certainly anything but “unheralded.” An All-Conference outfielder and pitcher, Butler threw for a 9-2 record with a 1.75 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 80.0 innings during his national summer schedule with the Naperville Renegades. Then, in his high school playoffs during his senior year, disaster struck. Although he isn’t exactly certain when the injury occurred, Butler remembers throwing a warmup pitch halfway up the backstop during one of his postseason outings. He went in to get his arm checked out over the summer, and was diagnosed with a SLAP tear of the labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.

A SLAP tear, or a Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior, is a front-to-back tear of the upper labrum.

Labrum injuries are known as one of the most career-threatening injuries for Major League pitchers. Imagine a just-graduated high school senior receiving the diagnosis. Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus did an in-depth study of labrum injuries to professional pitchers in 2012 and discovered some jarring realities. Of the 67 pitchers he identified, 20 didn’t return to the Major Leagues, and 58% pitched in 50.0 or fewer innings following the surgery.

Butler underwent surgery seven days before stepping on campus.

“It was very disappointing. I wasn’t…in a very good place mentally. I was very upset because of how everything happened, but it worked out for the best.” said Butler.

So, instead of coming on campus as a true freshman, ready to get to work in fall ball with one of the top teams in the country, Butler came to St. Cloud in a sling. He ended up being far from the only redshirt in that 2015 class. Mat Meyer, Mitch Mallek, Judd Davis, Ryan Wesley, Cal Giese, Boser, and Sigglekow joined Butler as redshirts, although none joining him as a med-red. Sheldon Miks and Bolder were the only members of the class to play as true freshmen. Butler became extremely close with his teammates, finding positivity throughout his rehab in his bond with them.

He finally was cleared to throw off a mound near the end of the 2015 season, firing a few bullpens before heading back to Naperville after the Huskies’ loss in the NCAA Regional Tournament. Butler’s brother is a catcher, which provided an easy opportunity for him to continue throwing throughout the summer.

Healthy and hungry for an opportunity to show what he could do, Butler entered fall ball in 2015-16 as a redshirt-freshman just off a labrum injury. Although he felt he threw well that fall, he struggled to find innings on a staff that included two All-Americans in Reese Gregory and Miks, along with a deep bullpen anchored by Logan Spitzak, Nablo, and Kroger. Butler made just five appearances in his 2016 season, striking out 4 and walking 1 over 4.1 frames.

Despite an unsightly 8.31 ERA, his stellar 2.64 FIP, 1.15 WHIP, .235 opponent batting average and .594 opponent OPS gave the first hints of Butler’s potential.
Butler began his summer of 2016 with the Joliet Admirals, a summer collegiate baseball club. Two years after his shoulder failed him, this time his elbow began to bark. Lingering soreness kept him from consistency and effectiveness, as he walked 17.6% of the batters he faced in 4 appearances and a start with Joliet, posting a 6.75 ERA. He made the decision to shut himself down in hopes that the elbow would heal and to prepare for his redshirt-sophomore season.

Butler wasn’t quite 100% healthy for the start of fall ball in 2016-17, his elbow still nagging with pain. He entered the 2017 season without a defined role, and after posting a 32.40 ERA in his three outings, the elbow wasn’t the only thing bothering him as he returned to Naperville after the Huskies’ exit in the Regional.

In the summer of 2017, Matt Butler weighed a major life decision: did he want to continue playing college baseball?

“I was sitting at home, I didn’t know if I was going to come back. I was going to come back for school, but I didn’t know if I was going to play baseball. I was still pretty upset from that season…I would say I was pretty close (to retiring), I had talked to my parents about it and they were supportive about it…I was pretty close to it, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I didn’t want to give up on it. Everything I’ve said before about how close my class is, I wanted to finish it out with them.”

Butler returned to campus in the fall of 2017. Finally, everything seemed to come together for the redshirt-junior. One afternoon at practice that fall, then-SCSU Pitching Coach Brett DeGagne had a man-to-man conversation with his righthander. The message was simple: If you want it, go get it. Butler found himself with a revitalized focus on baseball. A full three years removed from his labrum surgery, and his elbow as quiet as could be, Butler raised eyebrows in the fall. His velocity was up. DeGagne moved Butler across the rubber, and worked on repeating his delivery in hopes of unlocking the talent hidden in his pitcher’s right arm.

Finally, in his fourth year on campus, Butler had a role in the St. Cloud State bullpen. He made his debut with a scoreless frame on Opening Day at Missouri Western State, working around a pair of walks. Then, on March 2nd in the Tucson Invitational, he had an outing that could have derailed him in the past.


3.0 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs, 5 earned, one walk, and just 2 strikeouts against Ottawa University.

However, despite the ugly numbers, there were immensely promising signs for Butler.

Facing a team in its first season as a program, scouting reports were scarce. Ottawa’s lineup was tooled to utilize their speed to beat out infield hits and force errors, and the Huskies infield defense was far from mid-season form. Butler worked at a mind-blowing 85.7% ground ball rate and a 64.3% soft contact rate in the outing, surrendering a miniscule 7.1% hard hit rate. Bleeders, rollers, and would-be outs did Butler in, not hard hit balls and nonexistent command.

DeGagne’s confidence didn’t waver in his righthander, but high-leverage outings were still out of reach for the middle reliever. He threw three consecutive scoreless outings to open NSIC play, punching out 2 and allowing just one hit over 2.0 frames. A low-leverage outing in an 8 run game at Minnesota-Crookston capped off that stretch.

Then, on a cold night in Bemidji, Butler got his chance to enter the ring with the Mavericks.

After the Huskies’ starter exited early and their first relief option struggled to record the third out in the fourth inning, St. Cloud State trailed archrival Minnesota State-Mankato 6-2. The Huskies were nearly out of relievers in the finale of the four-game series. They needed someone to step up and save the pen, and after a walk loaded the bases, Pat Dolan handed the ball to Butler. After walking Kato shortstop Luke Waldek on a 3-2 count, Butler bore down and struck out All-NSIC senior Dylan Dresel to leave the bases loaded. He went on to have the best outing of his career, going the final 5.1 innings and allowing one unearned run on 5 hits and a walk while striking out a career-high 6 Mavericks. Butler worked at a 53.3% ground ball rate, a 40% soft contact rate, and a 13.6% swinging strike rate. His sinker sawed off batters, and his curveball was sharper than ever.

St. Cloud State went on to lose the game, still earning a crucial series split with Mankato.

In Pat Dolan’s postgame message to the team on the bus ride to St. Cloud, he spoke about opportunities and making the most of them, then praised Butler’s patience in awaiting his, then running with it. Butler quickly ascended the bullpen, joining Zach Iten and the soon-to-be returning Miks as SCSU’s top high-leverage firemen.

Butler’s 2018 showed the promise of an elite reliever in the Northern Sun. Many casual baseball fans will see his 5.17 ERA and allow that to write the story of his season, but a deeper look into his numbers give Huskies fans a whirlwind of excitement for his senior season. An elite 3.04 FIP, a 25.7% strikeout rate, a 53.2% groundball rate, a 10.6% pop-up rate, and a team-leading 51.1% soft contact rate scream late-inning leverage man. He was a bit plagued by walks, with a 10.8% walk rate, but relievers are allowed to have higher base on ball totals, as long as they produce punchouts and ground balls. Butler also posted the second-lowest hard-hit rate on the staff at 19.1%, just behind closer Nathan Strobel.

So, what attributed to the high ERA? If all the above performance-indicating numbers were so elite, why the 5.17 ERA? It’s actually very easy to find the answer: BABiP, or Batting Average on Balls in Play. In the NSIC, which is statistically a very offensive-friendly environment, league average BABiP is roughly in the .330 range, or approximately 20 points higher than the MLB average. What does that tell us? Take a player’s BABiP, then look at their spray rates. Butler excels at using his plus sinker-curve combination at generating a great deal of weak ground balls and pop ups, which are far and away the most reliable out in baseball, and he avoids hard hit line drives and fly balls, which statistically go for the most hits. However, with a look at Butler’s stats, you can very quickly see that he was debatably the unluckiest pitcher in the NSIC a season ago, as his BABiP stood at a whopping .488, attributing to his .355 batting average against. As the “luck pendulum” swings back his way in 2019 (just as it did in Bismarck, which we’ll get to shortly), Butler’s BAA and ERA should both easily fall into much more dominant numbers.

After his 2018 Huskies season, Butler spent a short while back in Naperville with his family, then came back to St. Cloud to play amateur ball with Sauk Rapids. During the Huskies season, Brett DeGagne had been hired as the Pitching Coach for the Northwoods League’s Bismarck Larks, beginning in the 2018 summer season. DeGagne had discussed the possibility of bringing Butler with him to the Larks, and that came to fruition just a few weeks into June. The Larks needed a long reliever, and were headed through St. Cloud on their way to Rochester. Butler signed his contract and met the team at a gas station.

The Northwoods League is a 72-game summer collegiate league, widely recognized among baseball circles as best in the Midwest and second only to the Cape Cod League in terms of talent. With its excellent simulation of a Minor League season, the Northwoods is often a hitters’ haven. Right on que, Butler made his Northwoods debut in one of the friendlier hitting environments in the league, Copeland Park in La Crosse. Brought on in relief against a fearsome Loggers lineup that featured two 40-RBI men in San Diego’s Shane McGuire and Butler University’s Harrison Freed, Butler managed to go 3.0 innings while allowing just one earned on 5 hits, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. Butler quickly ascended yet another pitching staff, ending his Northwoods season with a sparkling 2.63 ERA in 12 appearances and 5 starts. He was named Northwoods League Pitcher of the Night after throwing a “no-hitter” on July 29th against Eau Claire, firing 6.0 official innings of no-hit ball while striking out 7 and walking 4 in a 0-0 tie. Butler did allow a hit in the seventh, but the game was called due to rain at the seventh inning stretch, giving him the official no-hitter. Butler’s finest start came against the Mankato MoonDogs on August 4th, receiving a no-decision despite throwing 6.0 innings of 1-run ball on 3 hits and 3 walks while recording 8 punchouts versus one of the league’s most powerful lineups.

Across 37.2 innings with the Larks, Butler posted a 21.5% strikeout rate, a 12.7% walk rate, a 3.31 FIP, a 1.35 WHIP, and an elite .226/.329/.299 opponent slash line for a .628 opponent OPS. Finally, Butler’s luck factors went in his favor, as his BABiP cratered to a .294 mark.

Injuries and past struggles behind him, Matt Butler is prepared to enter the 2019 season as one of the NSIC’s most unheralded elite relievers. He’ll be one of the anchors for a bullpen that has the potential to be the best in Pat Dolan’s time at SCSU, and for Butler, only one thing is on his mind in terms of goals he hopes to accomplish.

“Most importantly, I want this team to go to the World Series. We’ve been close, made a regional every year I was here, we got a huge senior class, lots of senior leadership, I want to make that step and make it to the World Series this year…I’m ready to do whatever they ask of me, whether it’s a spot start, close, long relief, whatever they need, I’m ready to go, I just want to help this team win. And we’re going to win. So, I just want to contribute to it.”

Matt Butler’s path to success hasn’t been an easy one.

Some just might say it’s been the best one.

Podcast

St. Cloud State Women's Hockey Season Preview

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09/27/2018 - 6:00 PM

St. Cloud State Women's Hockey Season Preview

The Women’s hockey team comes into the 2018-2019 season after finishing 8-20-5 overall with a 6-14-4 conference record last season. Eric Rud’s Club graduated four players last season, Forward Alyssa Erickson, Defensemen Brittney Anderson and Emma Turbyville and Goaltender Taylor Crosby.

The three senior skaters were the three captains for the Huskies last season and were all in the top 8 in scoring. Last season’s team broke a 37 game losing streak against the Minnesota Golden Gopher at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, took the number one team in the country to the wire and played in Hockey Day Minnesota. All of this occurred with the Huskies being .500 after Christmas break, which leads to positive traction coming into this season.

The Women’s team is bringing back a load of talent, from their tantalizing tandem in net to their trio of top scorers from last year. These ladies are looking for only their second winning season in program history, the only other time it has happened was in ’07-08 where they went 18-15-5. This won’t come easy as four teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference are ranked in the USCHO Division 1 Top 10.

The talent that is still in St. Cloud is up and down the lineup. Tops on the team in goals, assist and points are all still in town. Senior Julia Tylke led the team in goals the past two seasons and was second her freshman year. Tylke has been featured on Sportscenter Top 10 for her scoring prowess and it should be on full display in her last season. Sophomore Laura Kluge led the team in assists (17) and points (24) last year. Kluge’s play will go a long way for this team as she is a focal point for the offense both with the man advantage and at equal strength.

These two should pace the Huskies this season, who need to score more than they did last season’s 52 goals. My breakout forward candidate for this season is sophomore Megan Roe who should see time on the third line this season. Roe only saw the ice in 10 games last year and was unable to put up any points but in high school she scored at just under a point-per-game pace her final two years.

The back end is where the Huskies were hurt the most by graduation where they lost their top two defensemen. This season they will be led by junior assistant captain Abby Thiessen. Thiessen transferred from the University Of North Dakota after their women’s hockey team was cut. She had 10 points from the back end last season playing on the top defensive pairing with Britany Anderson.

My breakout defenseman candidate for this season is sophomore Taylor Wemple. Wemple is a force at 6’0 ft. tall and right handed from the point but she was undisciplined last season earning a penalty about every three games, which was the worst percentage on the team. She should lock down a solid role on the second and third pairings as long as she cleans up the penalties.

The Huskies are stacked in net with two clear starting college goalies. Junior Janine Alder and Sophomore Emma Polusny were unbelievable last year, leading to a handful of Huskies team records going down in flames. They claimed the number one save percentage for a season in team history at .929; while the second was all the way back at .919. Alder was at 9.35 and number one in team history with 33 GA and 473 saves. She also set the team record for saves in a game stone walling 59 shots against Wisconsin. Polusny was right behind at number two in save percentage with .934, 43 GA and 605 Saves.

The tandem is also number one in team history for goals against average in a season at .2.27; while the second is at 2.55. This time Polusny is number one on the record board at 2.20 GAA, second is at 2.32 GAA and Alder was right there with a 2.42 GAA. Polusny got significant run in the second half of last season but I expect them to split time in net for most of the season if they are both still playing at such a high level like last season.

The fresh talent on the team should find the ice from day one, especially on the back end. Freshman Olivia Hanson is expected be the left handed shot that fills Anderson’s old spot on the top pairing. Hanson is from Minot, North Dakota but she played in Canada for the Notre Dame Hounds the past four years. Hanson had four goals and 18 assists for 22 points in 25 games last season. She added three assists to that total during eight playoff games. Hanson did have 30 penalty minutes last season, which could work against her this year. Hanson will wear the 44 jersey this season.

Freshman Taytum Geier is the second defenseman brought in this year. She is from Verona, Wisconsin. She played for the Madison Capitals the past three years. She is more of a defensive defenseman who isn’t afraid to throw her body around to block shots. Geier shouldn’t wear down this year as she is used to a brutal schedule that includes 67 games a year on average. Geier will wear the 16 jersey this year.

In net, freshman Karlie Ries comes in from New Ulm High School. She brings in the pedigree being the daughter of former Husky Bill Ries, who played and coached here in the 1980’s. Ries probably won’t see the ice this season barring injury but the future in net looks bright. Ries will wear the 30 jersey this year.

On the offensive side the Huskies brought in freshman Jenniina Nylund, Allie Cornelius and Sophomore McKenna Wesloh, who will redshirt this season as a transfer from Ohio State. Nylund appears to be the one who will have the biggest impact on the Huskies this season having found a possible spot in the top 6. Nylund can flat out put the puck in the back of the net. Last season for Team Kuortane she scored 23 goals in 30 games, adding in 16 assists in there. In international competition playing for the Finland U18 team the year before she scored eight goals in 16 games. Nylund will wear the 81 jersey this year.

Cornelius is the home town girl having played high school hockey for the St. Cloud Icebreakers. She had an amazing four years with the Icebreakers amassing a program record for points (162) and goals (102) while being a mere second in assists (60). She will most likely not see much ice time this season with her skill set leaning toward offense the top 6 being pretty crowded but look for her to use that elite offensive skill in the near future for Rud’s squad. Cornelius will wear the 6 jersey this year.

The top games you won’t want to miss at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center are as follows:

Oct. 12 vs. Minnesota Gophers

Oct 26 and 27th vs. UMD Bulldogs

Nov. 17 vs. Minnesota Gophers

Dec. 7 and 8 vs. Wisconsin Badgers

Feb. 1 and 2 vs Ohio State Buckeyes

The Huskies begin regular season play this weekend Sept. 28 and 29 when they fly out to Storrs, Connecticut to take on the University of Connecticut. The games will be at 6 p.m. on Friday and at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Neither of the games will be broadcast.

NOTES:

• This will be a good gage on where the Huskies are at with Connecticut earning two votes for the USCHO rankings.

• These teams tied 0-0 with Connecticut wining in OT on Friday and St. Cloud won 3-2 in comeback fashion on Saturday to start last season.

Local connection: Connecticut has one Minnesota native on their team in sophomore Natalie Snodgrass, who is from Eagan.

• Connecticut lost their exhibition game 4-2, while SCSU won theirs 9-0.

Sports Schedule

  • Women's Hockey vs MSU-Mankato (Sports Stream)
    Jan 18, 2019 - 3:07
  • Men's Hockey vs Western Michigan University
    Jan 18, 2019 - 7:07
  • Wrestling vs University of Mary (Sports Stream)
    Jan 19, 2019 - 2:00

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