The boys of summer were playing in the snow this weekend, as the University of South Dakota club baseball team traveled to Iowa to compete in four conference games.
The baseball team is a competitive team that also likes to have fun, senior captain Justin Palmer said. He also said the team is always looking for new talent.
“We have a lot of team bonding and a lot of fun,” Palmer said. “It’s just another group of guys I can hangout with. I encourage everyone to join. We’re competitive but with a laid-back atmosphere.”
The team traveled to Northern Iowa Saturday to take on the Panthers in a four-game North conference series. The Coyotes and Panthers compete in the National Club Baseball Association and are a part of the Mid-American Legion.
The Coyotes swept the Panthers, winning all four games and improving their record to 7-0 after defeating the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in their first three games of the season.
Palmer said despite the freezing temperatures in Cedar Falls, the team was ready to play.
“We didn’t want to drive five hours and not play,” Palmer said. “I was ready for baseball season to start and we were excited to play this weekend. Of course, we wish it was 70 degrees, but there’s not much we can do about that.”
In the first game of the series Saturday afternoon, the Coyotes earned a come-from-behind win. UNI took a four-run lead in the second inning and USD didn’t score until one run was batted in during the fifth. The Coyotes came out strong in the top of the seventh and tied the game on a run by Palmer. Another run was batted in and the Coyotes took a 5-4 lead over the Panthers that they didn’t relinquish.
Senior captain Trevor Freudenthal said the team’s pitching is what will win games this season.
“Our pitching is the best aspect of our team,” Freudenthal said. “We have four or five definite starters and our relief pitching is strong, as well. Our hitting is probably our weakest area. We lost some big sticks from last year and it’s difficult to find people to fill those spots.”
After coming from behind in the first game, the Coyotes earned dominating wins in the final three. In the second game, USD took an early 5-0 lead during the first inning. Each team scored one run during the second inning and then were held scoreless in the remaining five. The Coyotes took the 6-1 win.
Despite the cold temps Sunday morning, USD was on fire. The Coyotes dominated the Panthers 13-4 during their third meeting and finished the four-game series with a 10-1 victory in the final game.
Head coach Adam Gale said the team is off to the best start in club history and has the best pitching he’s seen while he’s been with the team.
The team has already had three games cancelled this season because of weather and field conditions, making it tough to play in early spring, Freudenthal said.
“We don’t have too many games cancelled later in the spring, but right now it’s cold and the field conditions aren’t always good enough to play,” he said.
The team plays its non-conference schedule during the week against local colleges and travels to conference opponents on the weekends. When non-conference games are cancelled, Freudenthal said the team tries to reschedule them, but conference games must be rescheduled.
Because baseball isn’t a sanctioned university sport, Gale said the team has to raise a lot of money to pay for its expenses.
“It’s pretty tough to pay for everything,” Gale said. “We get a little funding from the school but the rest comes from fundraisers. The players sell T-shirts to students, friends and family. We also send out donation cards to friends and family. We have a $15,000 budget so it’s a lot of work to raise it all.”
The team doesn’t have the biggest fan base, but that’s because the players don’t advertise their games, Freudenthal said.
Fan support depends a lot on the weather, Palmer said.
“We have fair-weather fans. If it’s nice outside, we’ll have 30 to 40 fans in the stadium. Otherwise, we’re lucky to have four,” he said. “This year, we’re trying to do a little bit of self-publicity — putting up posters with our schedule on it, hanging up flyers to promote home games.”
With such a successful start to the season, Palmer said he is hoping more fans attend their home games.
The Coyotes are in action today in a double-header against Mount Marty College in Yankton. The first game begins at 5:30 p.m. with the second scheduled to follow at 7:30 p.m. The team will host its first home game Friday against Briar Cliff College at Prentis Park. First pitch is 3:30 p.m.
Reach reporter Cassie Bartlett at Cassie.Bartlett@usd.edu