The Waldorf University baseball team follows up its debut season in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) by hoping to make a run at the conference title during the 2017 campaign.
“The No. 1 goal is to make the conference tournament and compete for a conference championship,” Waldorf coach Joe Tautges said. “We look to improve our conference tournament run from last year.”
The Warriors finished with an 18-33 record last season, posting a 13-11 mark in conference play. Waldorf, which made its first postseason appearance since 2011, earned the No. 5 seed in the NSAA Tournament. The Warriors captured a conference tournament win over Dickinson State University before dropping season-ending losses to Bellevue University and Valley City State University.
Waldorf returns a veteran roster and brings talent and experience into this season.
“We have all of our starters returning from last year in which we put up some pretty good numbers, offensively,” said Tautges, who begins his third season as head coach of the Warriors. “We look for that to continue going into this year.”
One of the goals for the Warriors is to make defensive strides and also improve their pitching.
“We need to be more consistent, defensively and on the mound,” Tautges said. “Last year, it was a combination of both. We made some errors, giving teams extra outs, forcing pitchers to throw extra pitches, leading to three-, four- or five-run innings. Going into this year, we have more experience, defensively and on the mound, so I look for that to improve drastically.”
The Warriors bring a multi-dimensional attack to the table as they are well-rounded at all nine positions. Waldorf also enters this season with a strong bench, giving the team several options when filling out the lineup card.
“We also have depth position-wise, which is something we haven’t had much of the past few years,” Tautges said. “If teams are going to be successful they need to have depth.”
The Warriors return four all-conference selections from last season.
Michael Keeran earned first-team all-conference honors from the NSAA last year. Michael Keeran finished the season ranked eighth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) with a conference-high .444 batting average. He went 71-for-160 on the season while contributing three home runs and 31 RBIs for the Warriors. Michael Keeran also led the team in total hits, triples (5), walks (26), on-base percentage (.536) and slugging percentage (.650). During his playing time in right field, the senior from Clear Lake led the team in fielding percentage (.977) while recording 67 putouts and 17 assists. On the mound, he compiled a 4-5 record and struck out 33 batters in 65 and two-thirds innings.
“Michael had a really good year offensively last year and look for him to have another good year,” Tautges said.
Sophomore Mitchell Keeran was named the NSAA Freshman of the Year last season. Mitchell Keeran scored 44 runs, cranked 15 doubles, nine homers and 33 RBIs, leading the Warriors in each category. He went 63-for-186 performance at the plate last season to finish with a .339 batting average. Mitchell Keeran also recorded .413 on-base percentage and a .586 slugging percentage. Defensively, Mitchell Keeran posted a .977 fielding percentage while playing right field.
“Mitchell will be a middle-of-the-order guy for us again this year,” Tautges said.
Trevor Bauer was tabbed all-conference honorable mention last season. The senior from Twentynine Palms, Calif. made an impact as Waldorf’s closer after turning in a 3-0 record and leading the Warriors with 35 strikeouts, four saves, and a 2.28 earned run average (ERA). In 18 relief appearances, Bauer held opponents to a .189 batting average in 27 and two-thirds innings.
“Trevor was solid for us out of the bullpen last year,” Tautges said. “He might get a few starts throughout the year.”
Jimmy Quirk garnered all-conference honorable mention recognition last season. The sophomore third baseman from Woodbury, Minn. produced a .320 batting average, four homers and 22 RBIs. Quirk smacked 39 hits, eight doubles and scored 27 runs. He also provided a .432 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage.
Senior Bruce Mau returns for the Warriors after posting a .344 batting average last year. The Clovis, Calif. native put together a 56-for-163 performance at the plate. Mau also added 29 runs and nine doubles.
Riley MacDonald will be stepping onto the field as a Warrior for the first time after redshirting last season. The junior transfer from Douglas College is expected play a pivotal role on the field and behind the plate.
“Riley will be our starting catcher and hitting in the middle of the order,” Tautges said. We need him to be our leader on the field.”
The Warriors plan to receive contributions from their returners and incoming class.
Juniors Miguel Castro, Nestor Jimenez, Joey Ponder, sophomores Taylor Giving, Alex Gustafson and Nic Ray look to provide a boost as they continue their collegiate careers after joining the Warriors as transfers.
The Warriors open the season on Saturday, taking on Judson University in a 12 p.m. doubleheader at Elgin, Ill. During the 2016 season, Judson turned in a 40-25 record and a 24-5 mark in Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) play. The Eagles, who are receiving votes in the NAIA preseason poll, advanced to the first round of last year’s National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) World Series.
“Judson has always had a tradition of having very good baseball teams,” Tautges said. “They compete in a very good conference, are always very talented and will be well coached. It’s going to come down to who makes the plays and who doesn’t.”
Waldorf hits the road for the following two weekends. The Warriors face Ottawa University (1-3) in a pair of 12 p.m. doubleheaders on Feb. 18-19 at Ottawa, Kan. Waldorf is also set to battle Midland University (3-1) in 1 p.m. doubleheaders scheduled for Feb. 25-26 at Fremont, Neb. Midland closed the 2016 season with a 42-20-1 record, went 15-5 in Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) play and advanced to the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament.
The Warriors continue their tough nonconference schedule on March 6 when they face NCAA Division I’s South Dakota State University in a 9:30 p.m. doubleheader under the lights of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. During the 2016 season, the Jackrabbits posted a 22-35 record and a 13-17 mark in the Summit League.
The Warriors make a spring break trip to Tucson, Ariz. on March 8-12 for the Tucson Invitational. Waldorf is scheduled to play eight games, including one against St. Cloud State University. The Huskies finished the 2016 season with a 43-10 overall record and a 23-8 record in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC). St. Cloud State received an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament after clinching the NSIC Tournament title while going 4-0 in the conference postseason.
Waldorf plays its first home series with a pair of doubleheaders against Hastings College (0-3), scheduled for March 18 at 2 p.m. and March 19 at 12 p.m.
As the Warriors enter conference play, their schedule doesn’t get any easier. Bellevue, the University of Jamestown (6-1) and Mayville State University (6-1) are each coming off NAIA National Tournament berths. During the 2016 season, Bellevue turned in a 54-12 overall record, won the regular-season conference title with a 20-3 league record, claimed the NSAA Tournament championship to advance to the NAIA National Tournament and reached the Avista NAIA World Series. Bellevue, which is ranked No. 3 in the national preseason poll, was selected as the unanimous favorites to win the conference title for the second consecutive year.
The Warriors are scheduled to face each of the three national qualifiers that represented the NSAA last season.
Waldorf begins the conference season by hosting No. 16 Jamestown in a pair of doubleheaders on March 25-26. During the 2016 season, the Jimmies put together a 52-11 overall record and an 18-5 record during conference play.
Waldorf travels to Mayville, N.D. on April 7-8 for two doubleheaders against Mayville State. The Comets tallied a 31-30 overall record and a 12-11 record in the NSAA during the 2016 season.
Waldorf closes otu the season by hosting Bellevue in a pair of doubleheaders on April 28-29.
The Warriors continually face tough nonconference opponents throughout the season with the expectation of preparing to compete against the talented teams in the NSAA.
“I am firm believer in playing good teams to challenge our guys,” Tautges said. “I am excited to finally get outside and I know our guys are chomping at the bit.”