30* (Tie). AUGUSTANA (SD) VIKINGS (38-18)

Augustana quietly put together a record-breaking season last year. The Vikings established a new school record of 38 wins, besting the former top mark by four   and finished the season winning 22 of 25 games – seven of which were wins by double-digit runs. Despite their unprecedented success Augie was unable to advance to the NCAA postseason and found itself stuck in the eighth position of the crowded and competitive Central Region rankings. Playing in the same conference as Minnesota State and St. Cloud State, the Vikings will have their work cut out for them if they are going to leapfrog the NSIC stalwarts for a regional run, but this year’s edition of the team could have the fire-power to do it. Head Coach Tim Huber believes the current club be the most talented as any team he’s ever coached.  Many of last year’s top hitters and pitchers will be back on the diamond and the Huber has the team ready to win its first conference title in ten years.

Alex Fink’s freshman debut last season was memorable and if it is demonstrative of things to come, he’ll be a vital part of the school’s rise in wins and reputation. Fink had trouble finding playing time to start the season, but once he found his way into the lineup he hit .407 with 10 extra base hits in 113 at bats. The versatile Jake Peterson was First Team All NSIC and All Central Region Second after hitting .364 with a .456 on base percentage and team leading 29 stolen bases. Peterson started games at center field, second base, shortstop and left field. Tony Viger led the NSIC in RBI with 53 while hitting .337. He also had a Viking-leading 15 doubles. Also back in the Augie order will be Marcus O’Neill. The junior outfielder was second on the team behind Fink in batting at .374, stole 11 bases and had 17 extra-base hits. Incoming freshman Jacob James is anticipated to be a contributor his first year on campus. He batted .450 and stolen 45 bases his senior season.

The pitching staff has a trio of experienced starters back on the hill in Bennett Johnson, Kye Winter and Tyson Gau. Johnson had a 2.68 ERA and struck out 44 batters in 43.2 innings while only allowing seven walks. Winter had four complete games in his nine starts and finished the year with a 3.72 ERA and a 4-2 record. Winter was also an intergral part of the Vikings lineup as he hit .328 with 10 doubles and five home runs. Gau could emerge as the ace of the staff. He’s been limited to only 10 games the past two season, but as a sophomore in 2011, Gau led the team in wins with seven and logged a 3.49 ERA while striking out 67 batters in 67 innings. The Vikings also have returning talent in the bullpen. Derek Quame had a 2.25 ERA last year in 21 relief appearances with nine saves. Quame will be rejoined for late inning relief by Matt Musser who only allowed a single earned run in 16 appearances to finish with a 0.82 ERA.