Story by Shawn Smith – UMC Athletics

The University of Minnesota Crookston baseball team was picked to finish fifth in the 2022 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) Preseason Coaches Poll released Thursday, January 20 by the conference office. The ranking is the highest for the team in the program’s history, as their 2021 ranking of seventh was their highest previously.

The Golden Eagles have continued to be a rising program in recent seasons in the NSIC. The Golden Eagles finished the regular season in fifth place in the NSIC standings and made a deep run in the NSIC Tournament.  Crookston finished one game shy of the NSIC Championship game and were just short of making the NCAA Central Region Tournament. The Golden Eagles posted a 26-12 (18-10 NSIC) mark in 2021. UMC will have to replace several key pieces but also return experience to the 2022 squad. At the plate, Jake Hjelle leads the way after hitting .336 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs in 2021. Ben Bryant also returns after starting 31 games last season. He scored 27 runs as a redshirt junior. The Golden Eagles also welcome back outfielder Brad Morris, who missed last season due to injury. Morris hit .382 in 13 starts in the shortened 2020 season. In addition, senior Ben Thoma returns after playing in just the postseason in 2021. Thoma will be back behind the dish for the Golden Eagles. 

On the mound, Jake Dykhoff leads the way for an experienced staff. Dykhoff went 5-1 with a 3.44 ERA in 2021. Reliever Brody Sorenson is back after a stand-out freshman campaign. He posted a 3.58 ERA with six saves in 2021. Also returning are experienced arms Conner Richardson, Jake Osowski, Matt Nelson, and Alex Koep. All four players had over seven appearances in 2021. 

Minnesota Crookston will be in their eighth season under Head Coach Steve Gust in 2022. Gust has amassed 149 wins in seven seasons with four NSIC Tournament appearances during that span. 

“We lost a lot of offensive power from last year but we really like our team,” Gust stated. “We return most of our pitching staff and have an athletic offensive line-up. We feel we can continue to elevate our program and contend with the best teams in the region.”

Hjelle was named the team’s NSIC Player to Watch, while Dykhoff was selected as the program’s NSIC Pitcher to Watch.

“Jake (Hjelle) is one of the most athletic players that I have ever coached. He is a five-tool player that has consistently improved each year. He is very explosive and powerful. We feel Jake can be one of the best all-around players in the region,” said Coach Gust. “Jake (Dykhoff) pitched really well last year before an injury slowed him down. He has a good fastball, a plus breaking ball, and his change-up has improved. He is a fierce competitor and a proven winner. Jake can be as good as anybody in the league.”

Minnesota State University, Mankato was picked to win the conference, while Augustana University was selected to finish second. Minnesota State’s Collin Denk was named the NSIC Preseason Pitcher of the Year, while Augustana’s Carter Howell was pinpointed as the NSIC Preseason Player of the Year.

The Golden Eagles open up the 2022 campaign Friday, February 4 as they open a three-game series at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma.

TEAM – (1st place votes) – POINTS
1. MSU-Mankato (9) – 190
2. Augustana (6) – 188
3. St. Cloud State – 162
4. Minot State – 159
5. UMC – 130
6. Mary – 122
7. Winona State – 116
8. Wayne State – 108
9. Northern State – 89
10. Sioux Falls – 73
11. Concordia-St. Paul – 69
12. Upper Iowa – 61
13. Duluth – 58
14. Bemidji State – 26
15. Southwest Minnesota State – 24