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Baseball Team’s Early Start Looks Promising Even with Late Inning Struggles in Bullpen

BY Jim Berdysz

March 3, 2011

While it may not exactly feel like spring outside, Vikings baseball is officially back in full swing. CSU (2-4) may have lost their first two series games of the season against Longwood and UNC Greensboro, but things are looking up for Head Coach Kevin Kocks and his team.Senior Anthony Sambula was recently named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week

“We’ve struggled on the mound first and foremost,” Kocks said. Our three starters have been as good as anyone in the league, but our guys in relief have become a concern early on. Even our bats have cooled off a little bit recently, so we just have to find our stride and the right combination to be successful the rest of the season.”

Even with struggling at times out of the gate, the Vikings have made some early noise both at the plate and in the field. The team tied a school record with eight stolen bases in their second game against Longwood, when they defeated the Lancers 22-10. Their 22 runs almost broke another school record as well, as the Vikings came just two runs short of a single-game record 24 runs set back in 1968.

“Stealing is what I like to call the pressure side of my game,” Kocks said. “We’re going to try and steal as many bases as possible knowing we have much better team speed overall. That game against Longwood happened to be a special day for us.”

At the plate, the Vikings have been led by right fielder Alex Johnson hitting .292 with four doubles and six RBI’s in 24 at bats. Not far behind Johnson is left fielder and starting pitcher Anthony Sambula, hitting .333 in his first 12 plate appearances on the young season. The southpaw has also shown success on the mound, going seven innings in his second start against UNC Greensboro where he gave up just one run on four hits, walking two and striking out five to pick up the victory.

Another pitcher worth noting for the Vikings is Coty Bates, currently owning a 0-1 record and a 5.56 ERA, but more importantly striking out 10 and only walking three in his first two starts. Kocks noted of three incoming freshman who have also made an early impression on the Vikings roster: Mike Norkus, Clayton Ruch, and Frank Defor.

“Our team is mainly made up of juniors and seniors, but those three [freshmen] players have really had an opportunity to impact the team this year,” Kocks said.

CSU will now travel to Birmingham, Alabama to play UAB beginning on March 4, where they will look to end Blazers three-game winning streak. The Vikings will also look to start this series off with a victory, something the team has failed to accomplish this season.

“In the first game of a series, we try to set the tone, but with our struggles in relief the last couple games in the last few innings, it just hasn’t worked,” Kocks said. “We need to find our combination on the mound, start throwing more strikes, and definitely need to keep our walks down if we are going to have any shot at winning the conference.”

The Vikings first home game at Pro Freight Stadium is set for March 19, when CSU will open up a three-game series with a doubleheader against the Bowling Green Falcons.

“Our team is really a fun bunch to be around and in order to fully get to the direction they want to go, they just have to keep fighting,” Kocks said.

As to why Vikings fans and students should come out and watch the team play at home, even if it means traveling away from campus to Avon, Kocks said, “When fans come to the games, they’re coming to watch an exciting brand of Division I baseball at one of the top facilities in the entire state.” He also left fans with this notion: “If you travel to see the Indians play, why not come out and see the Vikings?”