Augustana baseball heads to fifth-consecutive Division II national tournament looking to make noise
The 2018 national champion Vikings face Ouachita Baptist in the first round.
SIOUX FALLS — The Augustana baseball team is headed back to nationals, as the Vikings will travel to Missouri this weekend for the Division II tournament.
It's the fifth year in a row that Augustana has advanced to the NCAA tournament, and the seventh time since 2011 under coach Tim Huber. Prior to Huber's arrival, the Vikings had never reached the national tournament.
The 2018 national champions reached the super regional last year, where they went two-and-out with a pair of blown leads, including giving up a 7-run 9th inning to fall 13-11 in the game that ended their season. That was obviously a painful finish, and Augie would like to atone with a return trip to the super regional and beyond this year.
It won't be easy. The Vikings, who are 42-18 and won the NSIC regular season title with a 28-7 mark, have been inconsistent all year and didn't play especially well in the conference tournament. They earned an at-large bid to the regional.
The Vikings are the 5th-seed, and will face 4th-seeded Ouachita Baptist on Thursday in Warrensburg. The Central Region is split into two pods, with Augustana and Ouachita joining top seed and host Central Missouri and 8th-seeded St. Cloud State. The other pod consists of 2nd-seed Missouri Southern, 3rd-seed Southern Arkansas, 6th-seeded MSU-Mankato and 7th-seed Arkansas Tech. The winners of the two pods face off in a super regional.
Huber is realistic when assessing his team's chances of making a deep run. When his team is at its best, they're a force. But they're too often not their best.
"If we're gonna move on things have to go right for us," Huber said. "We've just got to play better. Simple baseball stuff. Throw strikes, compete in the zone, make plays on defense and get a timely hit. We absolutely have to do all those things. If we don't it'll be a rough tournament."
It starts with Thursday's 2 p.m. tilt with Ouachita Baptist. The Arkansas-based Tigers, out of the Great American Conference, are 37-17. They're likely to send southpaw Teddy Webb (8-3, 3.63 ERA) to the mound against Augustana. OBU lost to the Vikings in last year's regional.
Huber will send senior right-hander Seth Miller to the mound for the opener. Miller is 9-1 with a 3.01 ERA. Caleb Saari (5-3, 2.89) will start the second game.
"We're going to need good pitching outings right out of the gate," Huber said. "I don't know if we're good enough or deep enough to get into the loser's bracket. We can't get too deep into our bullpen."
The Vikings have several powerful bats that make them dangerous against any arm. Jack Hines (.361), Nick Banowetz (.360), Drey Dirksen (.357, 14 home runs) and Parker Mooney (.312, 8 homers) lead the way for a team that averages more than seven runs per game.
But when the Vikings have made a run in the past, it was usually because they got someone from their pitching staff to step up. Huber hopes to get strong outings from Miller and Saari, and trusts closer Adam Diedrich (2.17, 12 saves), too. If a Caleb Kranz, Ashton Michek or Ethan Cole can find something this weekend, it would be a definite boost.
"We've won 42 games for a reason," Huber said. "We just need to play good baseball and hope some people are able to step up for us."