Baseball set to begin season at Southern Utah

By Andrew Singer

Today signals the beginning of a new era in college baseball, as new NCAA-mandated bats will be used in games for the first time.

The bats are designed to resemble wood in their performance and will most likely lead to a significant decrease in the number of home runs hit. NIU will be using the new bats in Cedar City, Utah this afternoon in its season opener against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

Coming off a 24-31 season, NIU third baseman Troy White has maintained his initial stance that the new bats will cut down on home runs, but nothing a batter does should change.

“There is not too much of a difference,” White said. “You won’t be able to hit home runs off the end of the bat, but it’s good for college baseball. It makes you focus on getting the sweet spot of the barrel on the ball.”

New bats or not, the Huskies are looking for some middle of the lineup hitters to fill the void left by graduating seniors Jordin Hood and Dave Reynolds.

White hit .289 and knocked in 30 runs last season, but the senior believes it will take a team effort to boost the offensive production.

“We need everybody to step up because baseball is a team sport,” White said. “This isn’t like basketball where one guy can take over a game. We need everybody to accept their roles.”

While NIU head coach Ed Mathey wants to see some more production at the plate, the ninth-year coach is content with his pitching staff going into 2011.

Right-handed senior Zach Oates has been given the opening day start. Oates will realize a long-held dream when he strides to the mound for the first pitch at 3 p.m. central.

“Ever since I came to Northern, I have wanted to be the starter on opening day,” Oates said.

Oates’ arsenal primarily features a fastball and slider, but has worked on a changeup during the winter months.

“I would say my slider is my out pitch, and I’m going to use my changeup as a show-me pitch,” Oates said. “Just get it in their heads that I have one.”

LHP Jake Hermsen and RHP Jeremy Gonzales will each start one game of the double header on Saturday, but Mathey has yet to decide which order the pitchers will throw. Hermsen can play the outfield, so Mathey may opt to push the right-handed hitter to the second game if Southern Utah throws a left-handed pitcher in the first game.

The Huskies are eager to get the 2011 season underway, but the weather may damper those spirits. While Friday’s forecast calls for 48 degrees and sunny skies, Saturday has a 40 percent chance of snow. No makeup date would be set for any games cancelled by inclement weather.

“We don’t know what we are going to get, but we are going to try our best to play some baseball,” Mathey said.