After losing 13 seniors from last year’s team, the Baseball Club (7-6, 4-2 Mid-America-North) could have dubbed this season as a year of rebuilding, but it didn’t. Instead, the club did the exact opposite.
The talent has been restocked from the pool that runs through Iowa State, and this year's team is even stronger than last year's team, which wound up in Paducah, Ky., for the National Collegiate Baseball Association World Series.
“Last year we relied on hitting a lot, and this year we don’t really have that one guy that can consistently hit home runs,” said junior Matt Odland, club president and coach. “This year we need to rely on small ball and defense.”
Through 13 games, the small ball and defense may be helping, but the biggest contributor has been the freshmen and first-year players. This year's squad features 10 new players, with seven of them being freshmen.
Kyle Rhodus is arguably the best all-around freshman, Odland said. The Minnesota native has batted .382, while grabbing 10 RBIs. He has also solidified his role as the starting centerfielder for the club.
Newcomer Ethan Kain, who is a junior, leads the team in batting average, hits, RBIs and triples. Kain is also tied for first in doubles and home runs.
“Our new guys have really pushed the envelope on what freshmen can do in the NCBA,” said junior Justin Kelm. “We had a good core remain from last year, and we have filled the rest with new guys that have excelled.”
Bobby Thompson, a sophomore from Minnesota, has been the club's best pitcher thus far. Thompson attended tryouts for the club last year, but was cut as a freshman.
“I always wonder why we didn’t take Bobby last year,” Kelm said. “He has been great this year and would have been interesting to see what he could have done last year.”
Thompson has a 3-0 record and recently recorded his best performance of the season. Thompson went all nine innings against Minnesota State-Moorhead, allowing only four runs on five hits. He also recorded five strikeouts, while giving up only two walks.
“Not making the team last year really motivated me to work harder,” Thompson said. “It was a relief to make it and to show the team what I can do.”
Kelm was quick to throw in the names of the other new players, saying every player has contributed and can be counted on in any situation.
Only three seniors are scattered throughout the ISU roster, but that doesn’t mean anything to the team when someone needs to be called upon in an important situation.
A perfect instance of this is when the club took on South Dakota to open up conference play. After winning the first game 21-1, the club dropped the next game, 9-5. Odland said the loss was unexplainable and shouldn’t have happened.
One thing did happen though: something that has happened all year long. The new players stepped up and led the club to a win, which was much needed. Thompson pitched a complete game and allowed only one run, while Kain and Rhodus combined for five hits.
Odland also believes this level of performance isn’t going anywhere and will continue to perform on a consistent basis for the four years for some.
“We’ll still look at our seniors in big moments," Odland said. "But it’s nice to have these guys that we know we can trust at anytime.”