North Dakota St. (25-24, 10-12 in the Summit League) at #1 Oregon St. (42-12, 23-7 in the PAC-12) Goss Stadium / 8:00 PM PDT / ESPNU / KEJO 1240 AM / KPOJ 620 AM
Top seed Oregon St. opens play in the post season against North Dakota St. tonight, in the nationally televised night cap to the first day of the NCAA Tournament.
It's the 15th trip to the post season for Oregon St., and 6th in a row for the 2 time Pac-12 Champions.
The Bison are making their first trip to the post-season since 1969, when they finished runner-up in the Midwest Regional in the College Division. In 1956, North Dakota State advanced to the NCAA District 5 playoffs, advancing all the way to the title game.
North Dakota St. earned their trip by winning the Summit League tournament, after finishing in a 3 way tie for third in the five team league. League regular season champion Nebraska-Omaha was not eligible for the post-season, and the Bison beat South Dakota St. 4-3, and then beat Western Illinois twice, 6-3 and then 9-0 last weekend to win the league tournament, and earn the Summit's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bison only pulled above .500 with the 3 wins, and their record includes 3 wins in a sweep of a Canadian team. But it was a break-through season, after having fallen 1 win short of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 2 years, losing the Summit Tournament Champion game each season.
Two years ago, the Bison were left out of the NCAA Tournament after having won 40 games, in a season they played 42 of 60 games away from Fargo.
It's been a big year in Fargo, where the teams from the school of an enrollment of about 12,500, a little less than half the size of Oregon St., won the FCS National Championship, and then not only won the Summit Conference regular season and tournament titles, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, they got a win over Oklahoma in overtime, before falling to San Diego St. Their softball team also advanced to the post season, and got a win too. There are power conference schools that haven't accomplished any of these things this year.
Oregon St. and North Dakota St. have never met, but they do share a common opponent.
USC, which took 2 of 3 games from the Beavers on the last weekend of the regular season also swept the Bison on the second weekend of the season, though they were the first games of the year for North Dakota St., who didn't play on opening weekend
Two of the games with the Trojans were close, as USC took the opener 4-3 and the series finale 5-3, with a 9-0 win in the middle. Nevertheless, North Dakota St. got off to a 2-18 start, with half of the losses by 1 run each.
Since then though, the Bison have stampeded on a 23-6 run.
The Bison have 3 hitters averaging above .300, led by senior center fielder Tim Colwell, the Summit League Player of the Year, who is hitting .376, with 22 RBIs.
Senior DH Wes Satzinger, is hitting .361, with 21 extra base hits, and 31 RBIs. Senior first baseman Kyle Kleinendorst is hitting .311 with 40 RBIs.
The Beavers will counter with 2 time Pac-12 Player of the Year Michael Conforto, who hit .364, with 55 RBIs, on 68 hits and 50 walks, Dylan Davis, who hit .286, but hammered a conference leading 63 RBIs, and Jeff Hendrix, who hit .355 as Oregon St.'s leadoff hitter. The three outfielders were all named to the Pac-12 All-Conference team.
North Dakota St. will start junior RHP David Ernst (5-4, 3.70 ERA). Ernst leads the Bison in innings pitched, with 87 2/3 innings worked. He's allowed 98 hits and 41 runs, with 37 strikeouts against 27 walks.
Oregon St. head coach Pat Casey said he would start junior LHP Jace Fry (11-1, 1.43 ERA), the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.
However, Casey changed his mind late in the day, and has opted for sophomore LHP Andrew Moore (5-5, 2.88 instead). Moore, who won 14 games in his freshman campaign, has made 1 Friday night start this season, and is 3-1 at Goss Stadium.
The Beavers also have senior second baseman Andy Peterson back, at second base and in the #2 spot in the batting order. Usual first baseman Kavin Keyes, who returned after missing over a month with a broken hand last weekend against USC, will play third tonight, with Gabe Clark getting the start at first.
Oregon St. will need to bounce back after ending the regular season with a loss to the Trojans, and 3 losses in their 4 games in the last week of the season.