The month of February brought freezing temperatures and significant snow to Golden. It may not feel like it yet, but, it’s college baseball season. The Orediggers have had to work around a few cancellations and schedule changes, but have entered conference play with an impressive record of 9-2. Just about every aspect of their game has been working, as Mines baseball is currently ranked 16th in the nation. The Orediggers are looking to follow up the best season in program history, as they broke records in wins, home runs, and runs scored in 2018, and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in Mines history. Mines is returning seven seniors, led by First-Team All-American catcher Mikey Gangwish. Several juniors that made huge contributions to last year’s squad are back as well. However, there’s one major difference entering this season.
Robby Bales, former Mines assistant coach, has taken over the helm as the Orediggers new manager. “Some things are being done differently,” said Gangwish, “and a lot of those are good things.” Bales has spent the past three seasons in Golden, so returning players have already built a solid relationship with him.
“He knows the players really well and we’ve all adjusted to his coaching style,” said Gangwish. “The transition’s always a little bit tough, but, as you’ve seen with the start of our year, we’ve got going really well.”
‘Really well’ may be a bit of an understatement. After splitting a four-game series at Angelo State, the Orediggers went on to complete a four-game sweep at St. Edwards the weekend of February 22nd (a team that hadn’t been swept in four games since 2009).
There’s already been a noticeable improvement at the plate for the Orediggers this season. Last year, after making the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, Mines fizzled out and went 2-2 the remainder of the season. A lot of that had to do with their offensive approach.
“First of all, we need to not rely so much on the long-ball, last year we kind of lived and died by the home run,” said Gangwish. The Orediggers managed to score 30 runs against St. Edwards, while only leaving the yard on three occasions. “This weekend [at St. Edwards] proved we can do that, we played in a pretty tough ballpark with wind blowing in the whole weekend,” said Gangwish. Mines also took advantage of some key defensive miscues by St. Edwards. “Last year we got opportunities, we left guys on base late in the season because we would either strike out too much or hit the ball in the air,” said Gangwish. Thus far, the Orediggers have been converting with runners in scoring position.
In the series finale at St. Edwards, 8 of Mines’ 13 runs scored with two outs. “[We’ve been] having good at-bats in tough situations, and winning pitches when we needed to,” said Gangwish. “[There were] a lot of 2 out rallies this weekend, and really just attacking their pitching staff and making sure that we got away for their best arms.” Mines managed to knock out the St. Edwards starter in just three innings that game. “[We need to] really focus this year on being a competitive team in every situation and winning at-bats when we can,” said Gangwish. “That will transition into a lot of wins.”
As a two-time All-American catcher, Gangwish is an integral part of this team. However, when asked about his individual accomplishments, he’s quick to redirect praise. “This year we’ve got so many guys between Jace Selsor, Trevor Kehe, Derek Daly, everyone this weekend showed that we don’t have to have a superstar be ‘the guy’ every single time,” said Gangwish. “Somebody’s gonna pick you up if you have a bad weekend, whether it’s somebody in the eight-hole like Ben Stinson, [who] this weekend had a great weekend, or Jace [Selsor], we’re always picking each other up.” The depth of this Oredigger lineup is impressive, and contributions have come from every spot in the order. “There’s really no pressure to do anything spectacular,” said Gangiwsh, “because we’ve got so many good players.”
Things have started out strong on the mound as well. Mines kept nearly all of their position players from last year, but lost a couple of solid pitchers this offseason. “In terms of player turnover, younger guys who maybe didn’t play as much last year are starting to step into their roles,” said Gangwish, “especially on the pitching staff.” Sophomore pitchers Gabe Garvens and Drew Hill have already thrown some quality innings, and have combined for four wins and 26 strikeouts in eight appearances. Returning starters Walter Pennington and Tyler Blomster have also been impressive, throwing back-to-back complete games on February 28th in a double header against Sioux Falls. The duo allowed only two earned runs and struck out 15 in absolutely dominant victories. “I don’t think it’s necessarily one guy,” said Gangwish. “I think there’s going to be some influx of starters here in there, just as there is in any season when you play 50 games.”
Mines opened up conference play on March 8th with a 10-4 win over New Mexico Highlands. Tyler Blomster notched his third win of the year, recording 10 strikeouts. The Orediggers went on to sweep Highlands in four games, and continued their winning streak to 11 games. Senior Phil Van Zale led the offense with four RBIs on three hits. “Everyone on the team is ready to contribute in whatever way,” said Gangwish. “If we can keep getting little contributions wherever they come we’re going to be really successful.” Watch your nationally-ranked Mines baseball team in action at Jim Darden Field for a four-game series against the Adams State Grizzlies Mar. 29-31.