Bison baseball set for 2023 season with hopes of claiming Summit League Championship 

Defending regular season champions return many pieces

Coming off their first-ever Summit League regular season championship, the Bison baseball team is about ready to kick off the 2023 season. In 2022, North Dakota State put up a 31-19 record overall and a 17-5 record in league play. The Herd, however, fell short as they lost to the fourth-seeded Omaha Mavericks twice down in Tulsa, Okla. in the conference tournament. Despite a disappointing finish last season, the Bison return several key pieces to help defend their crown as regular season champions and take it a step further to win the Summit League tournament. 

Second-year head coach Tyler Oakes and the Bison will kick off the season in Sacramento, Calif. to take on Sacramento State for a four-game series from February 17-19. In 2022, Oakes won the Summit League Coach of the Year, the first time a North Dakota State coach has been honored with the award. 

“I know it’s cliche to say but it’s nothing that I did,” Oakes stated. “I’m just fortunate to work at a place where the administration gives you the resources and tools and facilities that you need to be successful.” 

Oakes, who pitched for the Minnesota Golden Gophers from 2006-2009, led the Bison pitching staff to a dominant season in 2022. As a team, the Herd recorded 17 saves on the year, which led the Summit League and is second in NDSU history. West Fargo, N.D. native Tristen Roehrich, who totaled 6 of those 17 saves, returns to North Dakota State for his fifth season. 

After spending a year at Western Iowa CC, Roehrich returned to his hometown to play for the Bison after the 2019 season. Roehrich spent the 2022 season in the bullpen, putting up an ERA of 3.42 over 47.1 innings pitched. 

“Going away from home wasn’t bad, but it’s really good to be at home and have friends and family here and just play in front of the local fans,” Roehrich said on playing for NDSU. 

For this upcoming season, with the graduation of All-Summit League pitcher Evan Sankey, Roehrich will return to the starting rotation for the 2023 season. Roehrich previously started for the Bison in 2020 and 2021 where he started eight games over those two seasons. 

“I’m excited for it,” Roehrich said about joining the rotation. “Being able to pitch more innings and hopefully put the team in a good spot to win games and hopefully get off to a good start.” 

Also returning for the Bison pitching staff will be Cade Feeney and Max Loven. Feeney, who earned 1st Team All-Summit League honors in 2021 as a true freshman, led the Bison in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2022 with 79.1 and 62, respectively. As for Max Loven, the southpaw enters his fifth year with the Herd. In his Bison career, Loven has pitched 248.2 innings and has racked up 201 career strikeouts. The three-headed monster of Feeney, Loven, and Roehrich will make out the starting rotation for the Bison. 

“When you have three guys on a weekend that you can start giving them the ball makes you feel really good as a coach,” Oakes said confidently. “They know the expectations. They aren’t afraid of the spotlight or anything either.” 

Offensively, the Bison lost a handful of starters including centerfielder Calen Schwabe and catcher Logan Williams who led the team in batting average and home runs, respectively. However, returning for his fifth year as a starter is shortstop Peter Brookshaw. After starting at second base his first three seasons, Brookshaw took over for Bennett Hostetler following the 2021 season. In 2022, Brookshaw hit .275, belted 8 home runs, stole 13 bases, and had a fielding percentage of .951.  

NDSU infielder Peter Brookshaw connects on a South Dakota State pitch last season at Newman Outdoor Field. Brookshaw and the Bison begin defense of their Summit League Regular Season Championship this Friday against Sacramento State. Photo Courtesy | NDSU Athletics

“Did a nice job for us both offensively and defensively,” Oakes said of Brookshaw. “He’s a guy with a ton of experience. We’re excited to have him as a vital piece to our success this year.” 

As the shortstop and fifth-year senior, Brookshaw will be one of the biggest leaders for North Dakota State this season. 

“I think just a leader on and off the field and trying to be positive,” Brookshaw said on his role with the team this season. “Trying to be a good teammate to everyone and get guys ready for the year, and lead by example.” 

Also, returning for the Bison are outfielder Cadyn Schwabe and second baseman Druw Sackett. Schwabe led the team in stolen bases in 2022 with 18 and Sackett was second on the team in batting average at .338. 

The Bison hit 50 home runs last season which was second in the Summit League and is the 5th highest total in NDSU history. The Bison also stole a program record 87 bases in 2022, with six players stealing at least 8 bases. The combination of speed and power makes the Bison a dynamic force for opponents to prepare for and look to carry that success into the upcoming season. 

“We talk about trying to be as dynamic as possible and beating teams in different ways,” Oakes elaborated on being multidimensional. “I’m hoping that as we continue to recruit to that philosophy and get guys in here that can do a little bit of everything hopefully those numbers continue to improve too.” 

Brookshaw, Schwabe, Sackett and others will lead the charge as the Bison hope to defend their regular season title from last year. They will hope to take it a step further and celebrate a tournament title to extend their season into June. To do so, the Bison will need to get through the six other teams in the conference. 

“Oral Roberts will retool and obviously they were good last year too and won the Summit League Tournament,” Oakes stated. “Omaha is an experienced group that has a lot of guys back. South Dakota State has a senior-laden team too with a lot of guys that have been around. Those three, in particular, are teams that have enough pieces back and know what the Summit League is all about.” 

Since 1998, Oral Roberts has dominated the Summit League as they have been crowned Summit League Tournament champions 20 of the last 24 seasons and are the defending champions from a year ago. ORU and the others Oakes mentioned will certainly give the Bison a run for their money when the conference season rolls around. 

Oral Robert was picked as the preseason favorites as they received 42 total and six first-place votes in the annual Summit League Pre-Season Coaches’ Poll. The Bison were picked second just behind the Golden Eagles with 36 total votes and received one first-place vote. 

Before the Bison plunge into conference play against Omaha on March 24, the Herd will spend an extensive period of time on the road playing non-conference opponents. The Bison will play 20 straight non-conference games to open the season with trips to California, Arizona, and Texas while playing nine quality teams including the University of Arizona and the University of Texas. 

“It’s probably the most challenging schedule that this program has ever seen,” Oakes openly stated. “And that’s by design. From day one when I took over the head coaching position, I wanted to try to beef up our non-conference schedule as much as possible.” 

Following the non-conference slate, the Bison will play 14 more games on the road. Nine of those games will be against Summit League teams and the other five include scattered trips to Nebraska, Texas Tech for three, and Minnesota. After all that, the Bison will, weather permitting, have their home opener on April 18 against Mayville State. From that point on, the Herd will play 13 of their final 18 regular season games at home, not including the Summit League Tournament that will be held in Fargo. 

Last season with the winter storm that hit the northern part of the Plains in April, the Bison were only able to play seven home games last season. Despite playing a small fraction of their games on their own field, the Bison are used to being on the road. 

“All four years I’ve been here before this we haven’t played a home game for the first two months of the year so it’s pretty normal for us,” Brookshaw said. “It’s a lot of fun though traveling to one place and playing too.” 

The Bison will be in action for the first time in 2023 at Sacramento State on Friday, February 17 at 6 p.m. for the start of the four-game series. The Bison and Hornets will then play the following day at 3 p.m. and then finish with a doubleheader on Sunday at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

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