BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman Through the first quarter of the season the Bulldog baseball team has thrived with the long ball.
While the offense has built upon last year’s success, the other facets of the Bulldogs’ game have not. As UMD prepares to face Minnesota State in its Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opener next week, the Bulldogs are focused on brushing up on their pitching and defense.
This season’s offensive slugfest is highlighted by senior first baseman Alex Wojciechowski. The captain has hit an NSIC-leading eight home runs so far this season, including three during last week’s trip to Florida.
“I think he’s just more patient of a hitter,” Tyler Wojciechowski said of his brother Alex’s hot start. “He just seems to be waiting it out and really finding his pitches to drive and not missing them.”
On a spring break trip to Florida, during which they played eight games in five days, the Bulldogs hit five homers and scored 62 runs.
Tyler was one of several Bulldogs other than his brother to go deep in Florida; he hit his first career home run in a 5-3 win over Ohio Dominican last week.
He is one of eight different Bulldogs with at least 20 at-bats that have a batting average over .320. With so much depth up and down the lineup, opposing pitchers can’t shy away from any of UMD’s hitters.
“It really helps when everyone’s hitting and you can’t really work around guys,” Tyler Wojciechowski said.
UMD’s explosive offense was the highlight of the spring break trip, where it propelled the Bulldogs to a 6-2 record.
“I can’t remember taking a trip and performing that well,” head coach Bob Rients said. “We learned that we’ve got a pretty good offense.”
The Bulldog offense has excelled from a group that hit .316 last year and averaged 7.6 runs per game, into a powerhouse group that has a .360 team batting average and 8.41 runs per game.
In each of the past two seasons the Bulldog baseball team has started out 7-5. Through its first dozen games last season the Bulldogs hit a total of eight home runs.
Through this year’s first 12 games UMD leads the NSIC with 15 home runs.
With how deep the Bulldogs are, they won’t have to totally rely on their home run totals this year.
“I think we relied on (the home run) a lot last year, but with the addition with some of our new players I don’t think have to rely on it as much,” junior outfielder Grant Farley said.
While UMD’s offense has progressed, the defense and pitching have struggled early on in 2016.
Last season the Bulldogs were the No. 1 defense in the NSIC in terms of fielding percentage. So far in 2016 they have the fourth most errors in the conference, averaging two per game.
“Early on the defense always has adjustments that it needs to make, going from the fieldhouse to outdoors,” Rients said. “That’s normal, but yet with the amount of experience we had coming back we shouldn't be in the situation where we have as many errors as we do.”
With an open weekend before transitioning from non-conference to NSIC play, the Bulldogs are also focused on getting their pitching worked out. So far UMD has compiled a 6.44 team earned run average.
“I’m a little bit surprised but I know that there’s a progression to things,” Rients said. “What’s encouraging is to know we haven’t played our best baseball (yet).”