When the North Dakota weather brings constant snow and howling winds, a bubble can be a baseball player’s best friend.
North Dakota State typically practices in the confined and dark Bison Sports Arena, but with it being under construction this year, a bubble roof was put over Dacotah Field to give athletes a better practice venue with a spacious field of artificial grass.
It sure beats practicing in the North Dakota weather in February.
“This thing is legit,” Bison pitcher David Ernst said. “We can finally have full practices, full infield-outfield (drills), and we can actually scrimmage each other.”
Bison head coach Tod Brown said it’s like practicing for golf by hitting into a net at the BSA, while the bubble gives all the space NDSU needs.
“We get about a month’s work of being in the BSA as we do in a week in here,” NDSU pitcher and team captain Jay Flaa said. “With the space we have and even the lights are big improvements from the BSA. You can’t say enough for how much it’s helped us this offseason.”
The Bison baseball program had it’s fair share of ups and downs last season. The Bison went on a five-game losing streak before Summit League play, then secured a fourth seed in the conference tournament despite a 10-12 Summit record.
NDSU proved it belonged there by defeating No. 1-seeded South Dakota State and toppling Western Illinois twice to secure a Summit League championship and an NCAA Tournament birth.
NDSU fell narrowly to No. 2-ranked Oregon State 2-1, then lost again to be eliminated from the tournament.
“That was incredible,” Ernst said. “It was a big-time atmosphere and just a tremendous feel to it. I think a lot of our guys grew up in that moment. We weren’t just in shock and awe. We’re a lot better because of it as well and more prepared for this season.”
Now, Ernst said, the Bison have to take it to a new level by not being content and not having contempt. He said his team’s goal is to not only win the conference championship but win their region in the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
“All of us have our sights set pretty high,” Flaa said. “It’ll be nice to see where we’re at after putting our work in during the offseason. We’re getting excited to play outside in some nicer weather too.”
Just like last season, the Bison (0-3) have started out slow with three road losses, including one to Summit League member Nebraska-Omaha in a non-conference game.
“We know we’re going to come out with targets on our back,” Flaa said. “So we need to come out ready to play with that first pitch in our first game, first conference game, whatever it is. We have to be ready to play right away.”
Since starting practice in January, Brown said the biggest improvement his team can make is becoming consistent in the lineup. With arms like Ernst’s and Flaa’s, pitching will take care of itself, Brown said.
Now it’s time for the underclassmen to make an impact.
“Now, it’s all about finding a lineup that can play defense and score runs,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a lot of new guys sprinkled in along with some of our returning guys. Some of the different combinations is what we’re working through, and we use the first month of the season before conference play to figure out what is our best lineup.”