Experienced UMD baseball team confident in having a successful 2018 season

 The Bulldogs are looking to recapture their winning ways in 2018 with a more balanced offense. Photo courtesy of Kayla Collins.

The Bulldogs are looking to recapture their winning ways in 2018 with a more balanced offense. Photo courtesy of Kayla Collins.

The start of the 2018 season is less than one month away for the UMD baseball team, and a recent Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) preseason coaches poll predicts the Bulldogs to finish sixth in the conference. UMD finished sixth in the NSIC last season with a 26-28 record after winning its first NSIC championship since 2003 in the 2016 season.

Bob Rients is now entering his 13th season as the head coach with UMD, and according to him, his team will be more well-rounded than last season.

“We’re going to have a decent balance of power, average and ability to steal some bases,” Rients said. “From a coaching standpoint, we’re going to be capable of doing a couple different things offensively so we’re not necessarily going to be solely baserunning or solely power, it’s going to be a pretty good balance of all those things.”

Last season, the Bulldogs committed 90 fielding errors and finished with a .952 fielding percentage. In contrast, their opponents only had 68 errors for a .963 fielding percentage. Rients believes the team’s ability to field the baseball will go a long way in determining how successful the season is.

“I actually think we’re going to be pretty balanced between offense and on the pitching side of things,” Rients said. “Defense is probably going to be a thing that’s going to be the litmus test to some degree as far as how good we actually are going to be.”

While a number of Bulldog upperclassmen graduated before the start of last season, this year’s team features six seniors and seven juniors. Third baseman Tyler Wojciechowski said that while his teammates have pushed each other to get better during practice, they have also been able to form a close, collective group.

 Head Coach Bob Rients has guided the Bulldogs to a 100-60 record since the start of the 2015 season, including a 73-36 record against NSIC competition in that span. Photo courtesy of Brett Groehler.

Head Coach Bob Rients has guided the Bulldogs to a 100-60 record since the start of the 2015 season, including a 73-36 record against NSIC competition in that span. Photo courtesy of Brett Groehler.

“We just seem like a really close, tight-knit group and it has really seemed to be one big group of friends and it looks like we’re going to be really solid all the way around,” Wojciechowski said. “Everybody has been grinding really hard and pushing each other so it’s been a really good year so far.”

Coach Rients said that the coaches have been emphasizing fielding and mental toughness to the players throughout practice. According to Rients, the team is working to maximize opportunities at the plate, cut down on defensive mistakes and locate pitches in key spots.

“Mental toughness is probably the overriding factor that, as a coaching staff, we understand needs to be a focal point for our guys in our growth as a team start to finish throughout this year,” Rients said.

The Bulldogs finished the 2017 season with a .295 batting average while holding their opponents to a .272 average, and the returning experience in the lineup and the pitching rotation is expected lead to better results on the field.

UMD will open the season on March 1 when they take on the Beavers of Bemidji State at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis before heading to Florida to play six games in the Russmatt Central Florida Invite.

Wojciechowski said that his team looks forward to the opportunity to play in an environment as unique as U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Everybody’s really excited about it,” Wojciechowski said. “Playing there last year was a really good experience, it’s awesome to be able to play on the field the Vikings play on and it’s a great atmosphere so it will be really fun to start off our season there for sure.”

The Bulldogs will play in Duluth for the first time this season on March 27 against Mary at Wade Stadium.

SportsTyler Schendel