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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 14 2013

Bison baseball leaning on pitching

FARGO – It was a breakthrough baseball season for North Dakota State last season getting to the 40-win milestone and flirting with an NCAA tournament appearance in the Summit League tournament. This year, the Bison wouldn’t mind breaking all the way through.

Perennial champion Oral Roberts moved to the Southland Conference, but the Bison still need to overcome a good dose of youth to get there. They’ll try to do it with defending Summit batting champion Tim Colwell, who hit .381 with a school-record 93 hits.

The strength of the team, at least early, looks to be the pitching staff, led by starters John Straka and David Ernst. Straka went 7-4 last year with school records in strikeouts with 92 and innings pitched at 110 Zc.

Ernst came on last year to earn a starting nod in the rotation, going 6-0 with a 3.67 ERA.

“That’s where baseball starts,” Brown said.

Moreover, the Bison return three quality relief pitchers in Kyle Kingsley, Simon Anderson and Jake Heck.

“Those five are a really good starting base for building a pitching staff,” Brown said. “They’ve been highly successful and those guys are the leaders of the staff.”

In the field, outfielders Kyle Kleinendorst and Blake Turbak, infielders John Skrbec and Wes Satzinger and catcher Michael Leach will be joined by some new faces, but just exactly who has yet to be determined, Brown said.

“We’ve had back-to-back recruiting years under our belt, we’re not as anxious to play five or six freshmen at a time,” Brown said. “We can break guys in and put them in situations early and let them grow and mature.”

Head coach: Tod Brown (Sixth season, 115-140)

Key players lost: P-3B Zach Wetnz (.317, 5 HR); 1B Nick Colwell (.333); SS Max Casper (.300, .949 fielding percentage).

Key players back: Tim Colwell, Jr., CF (.381, 35 RBI, .438 on-base percentage); John Straka, Sr., P (7-4, 2.61 ERA); Kyle Kingsley, Sr., P (2.28 ERA, 5 saves); Wes Satzinger, Jr., INF, (.305); Simon Anderson, Sr. P, (1.83 ERA).

Poll prediction: First in vote by league coaches

Best home series: Oakland, May 3-5, Newman Outdoor Field

Best series of interest: vs. UND March 29-30 at Metrodome, Minneapolis

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia