As far as Valley City State University baseball coach Casey Olney is concerned, his team can match up with almost anybody on its schedule.
“We have enough talent to compete with the teams we’re playing against,” Olney said. “We just need to play well.”
The Vikings started their season last weekend with a four-game series at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Vikings lost a pair of games to University of Minnesota — Crookston and split two with St. John’s (Minn.) University.
“We started 1-3 which is disappointing,” Olney said. “We just need to play a little bit better.”
The Vikings hope to turn it around starting this weekend, when the team travels to Fremont, Neb., for a four game series with Midland University.
But this season’s team should look somewhat familiar.
On the mound, the Vikings return Dakota Athletic Conference first-team pitcher Taylor Nelson. They’ll also have starting spots filled by returning pitcher Ryan Shaw and former Valley City High School player Derek Zitzow.
“He’s really come into his own physically and we’re really expecting him to make a step forward,” Olney said.
The trio will be complemented by Ronnie Blagg, a junior college transfer who pitched well in the Metrodome Series. In his lone appearance, a 2-0 loss to St. Johns, he went six innings with nine strikeouts, four hits, and no earned runs in six innings pitched.
Combined, the team’s pitching staff had only three earned runs in the four game series.
The problem for the team was a shaky first two games at the double header, in which the Vikings defense allowed nine total errors. The Vikings had only three more the next day.
“If our pitchers continue to do what they did, we will be in good shape because we’re not going to make nine errors every double header,” Olney said.
Offensively, things look a bit different.
The Vikings lost numerous key players from last season, including Dakota Athletlc Conference first team players Michael Danielson and Matthew Borgford, as well as Tanner Bombenger, a four year starter at second base.
“Those guys are gone, so there’s a lot from our lineup that was taken away,” Olney said.
That said, the players taking the field have plenty of experience and Olney said they are simply stepping into larger roles.
Among those stepping up are Brenden Shearer, who has split time between first and third base, and shortstop Reed Oistad.
Last year, the two played spot roles for the team and are now taking on starting roles.
They join returning starters Josh Evans, Preston Jensen and Cliff Vasquez.
In part because of bat regulations that took effect last year, Olney expects to play small ball, rather than waiting for a big hit.
“We’re going to have to execute bunts, we’re going to have to hit and run, we’re going to have to steal whenever we have the opportunity to do that,” he said. “We have a few guys who can hit for power, but what I want to do is put pressure on the other team by getting guys on base every inning.”
Whether or not the Vikings will be successful, will depend on both performance and health, he said.
“This is a new team,” “There are some of the same guys, but it’s basically a new group of guys with new roles and the thing that I will tell them is that we have the ability to compete with any team we play with, we just need to play well.”