USF, Augustana baseball teams both playing well heading into matchup

USF's Ryan Bernardy is greeted by teammates after a home run

The Augustana/USF rivalry takes to the diamond on Wednesday, as the Vikings host the Cougars for a baseball double header on Ronken Field at Karras Park. First pitch of the opener is set for 3:30 p.m.

While the teams find themselves on opposite ends of the NSIC standings, both squads come in hot, which should make for an entertaining double dip on what figures to be a cold day.

The Vikings (21-6, 17-6 NSIC) are in third place in the conference, looking up at 11-2 Crookston and 18-3 MSU-Mankato, but have won six of their last seven games coming off a weekend sweep of Concordia-St. Paul.

Max Steffens is 5-0 for the Vikings this season.

The Cougars (12-14, 8-14) have won four of their last five, and they need to keep that pace up if they’re going to fight their way into conference tournament contention. Eight teams get in, and USF is currently sitting 11th.

USF’s bats have been warming up. Ryan Bernardy (.289, seven homers), Tyler Cate (.345), Grant Lung (.301, three homers), Tyler Blackburn (.288), Trey Hubers (.288) and Jared Binsfield (.284) have led the way for a Cougar lineup that boasts a team on-base percentage of .384.

On the mound, Matt Graham (2-2, 4.50), Keenahn Coyle (1-1, 5.21), Cole Schumacher (1-1, 3.86) and Alex Krout (4-2, 5.62) have been coach Grant Hieb’s most effective arms.

Whomever Hieb turns to against the Vikings will have a major challenge on their hands. The Vikings are batting .336/.416/.576 as a team.

More:Augustana’s Sam Baier hits seven home runs in double header sweep of Bemidji

Carter Howell bats an NSIC-best .475 with six home runs, also leading the league in hits and runs, while Sam Baier checks in at .378 with eight homers (seven of which came in one day) and a league-leading 15 stolen bases. Jordan Barth (.372, five homers), Christian Kuzemka (.369, five homers), Riley Johnson (.362) and Will Olson (.329, eight homers) round out a lineup that has few breaks. Baier and Olson’s eight home runs are tied for the league lead.

The Vikings’ pitching staff has been effective as well.

More:Tanner Brown fires perfect game for Augustana

Max Steffens (5-0, 1.27), Tanner Brown (3-0, 3.21) and Ryan Jares (3-0, 2.70) have carried the rotation, while Jed Schmidt (4-0, 2.29), Koby Bishop (4-1, 2.83) and Caleb Kranz (1.76) have excelled both out of the bullpen and as starters.

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