MITCHELL, S.D. – The Dakota Wesleyan University baseball team was picked to finish sixth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference preseason poll, which was released Tuesday morning by the league.
The Tigers, who finished fourth in the conference standings in 2012, received 58 points in the poll – which is voted on by the league’s 11 head coaches – and finished a point behind Nebraska Wesleyan University, which is fifth with 59 points.
Doane College, which won the regular-season title and earned a berth in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round last year, received 96 points and seven first-place votes and was picked to win the league. Morningside College was second with 90 points and three first-place votes and Northwestern College was picked third. Mount Marty College, which won the conference tournament in May, finished fourth with 73 points and one first-place vote.
The Tigers went 24-32 overall and 11-9 in the GPAC in 2012. Dakota Wesleyan went 1-2 in the GPAC tournament and ended its season with a loss to Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, Neb. The Tigers return many of their top players from last season, but lost a key part of its pitching rotation with the graduation of GPAC Pitcher-of-the-Year Ethan Opsahl. Opsahl led the GPAC and finished 15th in the NAIA with 94 strikeouts as a senior. He tied the school record with 17 strikeouts in a game against Hastings College.
Returning for Dakota Wesleyan is senior Erik Nockleby, who led the team with a .358 batting average last season. He had a team-high 58 hits to go with 27 RBIs and a .422 on-base percentage and earned All-GPAC Second Team honors as a junior. Nick Tadlock earned All-GPAC First Team honors as DWU’s designated hitter and returns after finishing second in the conference with seven homers. He led DWU with 37 RBIs and had 14 doubles and went 10-for-11 in stolen bases.
Michael Lukkason, Toby Kaplan, Josh Wagner and Chris Housley all return after earning All-GPAC Honorable Mention accolades. Lukkason returns at shortstop after recording 89 putouts and a team-high 131 assists. He also had 35 RBIs. Kaplan, an outfielder, batted .313 and led the team with a .988 fielding percentage.
Wagner and Housley are both veterans on the mound for the Tigers this season. Wagner went 1-2 with a 3.6 ERA and made 21 appearances – mostly in relief – as a junior in 2012. Housley led the team with a 2.48 ERA and went 3-2 in 17 appearances.
Head coach Steve Gust, who enters his fifth season with the team in 2013, added more than 20 names to the Tigers’ 2013 roster in the offseason, including a handful of college-level transfers. Kevin Hatcher and Kyle Larson both come to DWU from Northland Community College with junior eligibility, and Brendan Roth and Cody Silveria joined the Tigers from City College of San Francisco. Luke Schultz, a right-handed freshman pitcher from West Salem, Wis., is also expected to make an impact right away for Dakota Wesleyan.
The Tigers start the 2013 season Friday, Feb. 8, when they take on Montana State University Billings at 4:30 p.m. at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn. DWU is scheduled to travel to Wichita, Kan., to play Kansas Wesleyan on Feb. 16-17 before heading back to Minneapolis to play two doubleheaders against Dickinson State on Feb. 22-23.