Play ball!

The holiday season has dwindled into the start of a new decade and the 2010 spring semester is well underway. The Northern Kentucky University baseball team has completed fall workouts and will have seven days of practice before suiting up for opening day as they look to continue their dominance in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

NKU is ranked No. 28 in the Division II National Poll, as announced by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper on Dec. 21, 2009. The Norse, who amassed five GLVC Tournament titles from 2002 through 2009, won the GLVC Tournament last season and are picked to repeat as the GLVC East Division champions.

NKU is bringing back plenty of experience, with 16 seniors returning for the 2010 season. These 16 have battled through the rigorous demands of a full collegiate season and understand what it takes to win games.

Senior first baseman, Evan McDole, returns for a fifth year at NKU and is favored to be an All-American candidate. McDole was selected as the GLVC Player of the Year, American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), Daktronics Midwest Region Player of the Year, ABCA Gold Glove recipient and a third-team All-American in 2009. He has also been named team captain by his teammates, according to the NKU Sports Information Web site. His leadership on the field will be important to the Norse’s success throughout the season.

“We (the seniors) all take a little bit of ownership to the team,” McDole said. “Hopefully that can carry us deep into the tournament. Anything less than a regional title will be a failure, especially with all the experience and hunger we have from losing at the end of last year.”

McDole recorded a batting average of .355 in 61 games last season. He led the team in home runs with 15 and runs batted in (RBI) with 55.

Along with power and finesse, the Norse also return a duo of base stealers in seniors Pat Muth and Jason Cisper. The two combined for 31 steals last season and will likely increase those numbers in their final campaign with the Black and Gold. Muth led the team with 16 and Cisper followed with 15. These dynamic base runners will play a large role in the running attack for Coach Todd Asalon.

Cisper also led the team in batting average (.415) and hits (81) last year. He recorded 20 doubles, two triples and five home runs in the leadoff spot for NKU.

“We have more speed than last year, so we will probably run more,” Cisper said. “Coach likes to put pressure on the defense, we may not have as many power numbers this year, but overall our lineup is stacked with better overall hitters.”

Senior left-hander Kevin Jordan is a returning ace on the Norse’s pitching staff. Jordan had appeared in relief 30 out of 32 games, throwing for 77 innings last season. He led the team with seven victories and posted an earned run average of 2.22 while holding opposing batters to just a .209 batting average.

The Norse have three left-handed pitchers returning that started ten games or more last season. Junior Dave Middendorf (12 games), senior Ryan Schmidt (11) and senior Jarrett Casey (10) look to collect even more starts on the hill top for NKU.

The trio also combined for a total of 175 strikeouts with Middendorf leading the team with 72 strikeouts. These three starters will be expected to be the leaders on the mound and they must be successful for NKU to climb up in the standings.

The Norse finished the 2009 season with a 41-22 record overall and a 20-12 record in the GLVC. NKU enjoyed a 22-9 home record within the friendly confines of the Bill Aker Baseball Complex. This season the team will look to improve that overall record, defend their GLVC title and advance deep into the NCAA tournament.

NKU will begin play against Lincoln Memorial at 1:00 p.m. on Feb. 17 in Harrogate, Tenn.

Story by Mike Collins