Minot State baseball coach Brock Weppler says the Beavers are improved in the area that hurt them the most during their 15-23 campaign last season: pitching.
In 2013, the Beavers allowed eight or more runs in 15 games. Weppler recruited some new talent that he hopes can ease that area of concern before it becomes problematic again.
A fresh 1-2 punch in the starting rotation and a deeper bullpen could be the answer as the Beavers enter their second season in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
"Not only our starters are good, but we've got guys that can come out of the bullpen and shove," junior outfielder Andrew Roach said. "They'll get in there, they'll throw strikes and they'll compete. That's something we didn't exactly have throughout the bullpen last year."
Josh Larsen, a junior right-hander who transferred from Douglas College in British Columbia, and Brock McCashland, a junior lefty from Williston State, are projected at the top of the rotation. Weppler is optimistic the duo can throw into the later innings - somewhat of a rarity last year.
"In the past, we tried to do things by committee and everything kind of had to be perfect in order for us to win a ballgame," Weppler said.
The Beavers kick off their season with a pair of nonconference doubleheaders against Wayne State (Neb.) on Saturday and Sunday in Pittsburgh, Kan. The Wildcats, picked fourth in the preseason NSIC poll, are receiving votes in the Collegiate Baseball Division II rankings. MSU was picked to finish 14th out of 16 teams in the conference poll.
"They'll do some small ball, stuff like that, but they don't have maybe the bats that St. Cloud (State) or (Minnesota State-Mankato) or Augustana have," Weppler said. "It will be a good measuring stick to tell us where we're at, tell us what we need to get better at."
MSU split a pair of early-season games against Wayne State last year at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, losing the first 2-0 and winning the second 2-1.
"If we do our jobs on the mound, I'm expecting those types of games again for all four games," Weppler said.
After dropping 10 straight contests, the Beavers closed the 2013 season by winning five of six games. They hope that success can carry over.
Roach said last season presented a bit of a wake-up call. The NSIC is a step above the NAIA teams MSU formerly played, as evidenced by the Beavers' 7-17 conference mark.
"There's really not a bad team (in the NSIC). They're all really talented," he said.
That sub-.500 conference record caused a shift in preparation - longer and more frequent workouts, namely. Weppler's seen the extra dedication generate a new confidence and swagger amongst the ballclub.
The Beavers' first chance to carry that over to the diamond begins this weekend.
"The preseason poll doesn't show and doesn't dictate how good of a team we actually are," redshirt freshman catcher Paul Vogelsang said. "I know we're gonna turn some heads and open some eyes on some other teams."
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.