The Sioux Go The Way Of The BuffaloAt The Ballpark
Baseball has been a sport at the University of North Dakota in one way, shape or form since 1889. There were hiatuses in that span, three seasons during World War I and from the mid-20s to the early 50s, but it has been an official varsity sport since 1959. But now, the program has been called “out” for the last time as the baseball program will be discontinued from this point forward.
I felt compelled to pay homage to the Fighting Sioux and attend today’s final game at Cal State Bakersfield. UND came into the game with a 4-22 mark in WAC play, already having been eliminated from the six-team WAC tournament in Mesa, Arizona next week. So this was it. The coup de gras of a program that has its roots back to the time when the horse and buggy was still the preferred method of travel.
And ultimately, it wasn’t much of a game either. The Sioux shot out to a 1-0 lead after the first inning, barely missing out on making it 2-0. The starting pitcher for UND, Brett DeGagne, was spot-on, holding the Road Runners scoreless in the first three innings.
But then came the fourth inning. Ugh. And how.
DeGagne, who went five-up, three-down the first inning and three-up, three-down in both the second and the third innings, either tired suddenly or was completely figured out by the CSUB hitters in that frame. The first five batters of the fourth inning went: single, walk, bunt single, RBI single and bases-loaded walk. That put the Runners up 2-1 with still no out in the fourth. Nine-hole hitter Jake Ortega then sliced a two-run single to put Bakersfield up 4-1 and the rout was on.
Eventually, 17 Road Runners batters would step up to the dish in the fateful fourth inning, turning this one into a laugher in fast fashion.
Not that they needed them, but Bakersfield would add six more markers in the fifth inning. As you would expect, Bakersfield head coach Bob Macaluso spent the next inning or two substituting for all the senior players in the field, being that this was Senior Day at Hardt Field.
With the score mounting, the sting of the final game in North Dakota history was worn away very early. In fact, I spent most of the game standing in the photo well right next to the Sioux dugout and those guys were mostly relaxed and joking around for the entire game.
Here is what the linescore looked like, if you were wondering:
U North Dakota – 100 000 1 – 2 5 1
CS Bakersfield – 000 (10) 6 0 – 16 14 1
I was impressed with UND head coach Jeff Dodson, who despite the situation and the score was locked in all game long, focusing on teaching the game every inning of the way, shouting the occasional positive vibe once in a while as well. In other words, Dodson was the consummate coach until the final horn sounded.
With the score out of hand, the game was called via the mercy rule after the Fighting Sioux batted in the seventh inning. They immediately walked to the left field grass and had a team meeting where there was a lot of laughing and many smiles. This wasn’t the usual heavy emotion-type of last games like you would expect. Coach Dodson told me after the game that the shock of the announcement of the program being eliminated has long been over with, so his guys have dealt with the situation already and are over it.
But as you recall, the timing of the announcement of the elimination of baseball came just four days after the men’s hockey program had won the national title over Quinnipiac at the Frozen Four in Tampa. So the joy of that accomplishment was tempered and purists like myself were driven almost to the point of anger.
Both baseball and men’s golf were given the tomahawk chop by the athletic department at the end of this season. Golf concluded its competition back in late April. Like baseball, golf was a “road” sport. The golf team played in six golf matches this year and the Big Sky Championship in locations like Utah, Louisiana, Texas, California, North Carolina, Arkansas and Nevada.
Both men’s and women’s hockey – undoubtedly the marquee sports at UND – have converted to full “cost of attendance” scholarships starting this past fall. That means a stipend to each athlete which is meant to cover more than just tuition, room and board and books, but also cost of living expenses. Next fall, all sports will come under this cost of attendance scholarships, which will come at an estimated cost of $731,000.
I caught up with coach Dodson afterward to discuss his program’s final game.
– On his thoughts as the season has ended:
“The best part is that at least we got clarity on what was going on a few weeks ago. It was a situation we feel that should not have happened, but it’s out of our control. On the field, I thought our kids didn’t get what they wanted as far as the win-loss column, but the biggest thing for us was to go out and play hard every day and not worry about mistakes and prepare these kids for the life lessons that they can learn from playing baseball.”
– On what he said to his team after the game:
“The biggest thing was that I told them as you move forward in life as fathers, husbands, business owners, a lot of the times finding out things that you shouldn’t do make your decisions a lot easier on what you should do. And we’ve learned a lot about that in our situation here with our kids. Just making sure you go out an compete everyday. There are going to be a lot of days in your marriage or in your job where things aren’t going to go your way so you need to learn how to handle them. We tried to be as positive as we could with all this and to teach a lot of life lessons. I told them this was about walking out of here with your head held high and with your chin up.”
– On beating USC twice on opening weekend:
“We felt like we had a chance to make the WAC tournament field based on that opening weekend because on that opening weekend we pitched and defended really well and I think our rotation of Zach Muckenhirn, Brett DeGagne and even McKay McNair were all able to keep them off-balance and our kids went out and got after them. We just couldn’t match that intensity the rest of the season and yes, it was disappointing.”
– On his team’s post-game being very light-hearted, not a tear-filled hug-fest:
“Our seniors were a little emotional because they are the guys who are usually putting in all the blood, sweat and tears into the program. Those are the guys who are usually emotionally spent after the season is done and it finally hits them that their careers are over. But this whole situation has been going on for a month now, so we’ve come to grips with it. When they announced the program had been cut the other day during our game with South Dakota State it all sunk in. We met in the locker room after the game and we just kind of said, ‘This is where we’re at so let’s just move on.’ At this point it’s just another life lesson and that’s it.”
– On the future of some of his players:
“For us only having five scholarships was a pretty big deal to get used to. To get players like Jeff Campbell, who won the college home run derby. And Zack Muckenhirn is going to be a high-round draftee in the near future, but he is pretty set on going to pitch somewhere in the SEC next year. Our left fielder Miles Lewis is a Freshman All American and is set to go to Michigan next year. Our DH Brett Harrison has committed to Memphis. So we’ve got a few guys who are moving on to bigger things.
– On what’s ahead for him personally:
“I have a few business opportunities that will not be in baseball. My family ties are going to be more important to me than moving again for another coaching job. So this will be my last college game I coach here. My next coaching job will be to coach 14U fast pitch in the summer.”
OH, AND BEWARE OF BAKERSFIELD.
I know all the attention here has been given to North Dakota’s final game, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it should be noted that the CSUB Road Runners look like they are going to be a tough team to deal with in next week’s WAC tournament. They will enter the week as the No. 6 seed with a record of 18-35 overall and 12-14 in WAC play, but they are also on a 9-1 streak right now which includes a pair of sweeps in their last two WAC weekends and win at UC Santa Barbara.
This weekend, the Runners outscored UND 41-10 and the offense gathered 37 hits in all. North Dakota was also generous enough to issue 17 walks in the three games. During their 10-game hot streak the Runners have scored 90 runs and held the opposition to four runs or less in eight of those games. The offense is clicking at a high level right now. The big question is whether or not the pitching can match the intensity.
The starting rotation is young. And I mean about as young as it can get. Two freshman are probable starters for the WAC tourney in RHPs Isaiah Moten (1-3, 5.13) and Andrew Hansen (3-7, 5.21). Today, redshirt senior A.J. Monarrez got the start but only pitched one inning. He has the most wins on the team with a 4-5 record and a 4.14 ERA. Coach Macaluso wanted to give him a short stint today just to keep him fresh and ready for the post-season.
More visuals from today’s final game of Fighting Sioux baseball.