As the 2020 baseball season starts for the Winona State University Warriors, the team wanted to come into the season and start fast.
Winona State graduated just four players from the 2019 squad. So, the addition of seven first-year players and eight returning seniors, the Warriors’ roster is filled with new energy as well as veteran presences throughout.
Senior first baseman Sam Kohnle and senior pitcher Aaron Mutter appeared on the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) 2020 Players to Watch list.
Kohnle has led the Warriors in batting in each of the last three seasons with a batting average of .352, while Kohnie ranked seventh in the country last year among the toughest batters to strike out in the country.
Mutter posted a 5-3 record a year ago while limiting batters to a .241 bating averaging and striking out a career-high 54 in 65 innings pitched.
Winona State finished last season with a 26-23 record (16-16 NSIC), which etched the highest overall win total and first season above .500 since 2014.
The Warriors have displayed progress and improvement in the win column in each of the last three seasons and looks to keep that going in the coming season.
The 2020 NSIC Preseason Baseball Coaches’ poll placed the Warriors (118) at sixth, seeded behind Wayne State (153) and Mankato (184), who Winona State eliminated while battling out the losers’ bracket in the 2019 NSIC Tournament.
Senior outfielder Chad Herbst, who batted .288 (42-146) with 23 runs and 25 RBI last season, went in depth on the expectation and goals for the team in the season.
“I’d say the expectations for our team is to hone in on our success from the past couple of years,” Herbst said.
Herbst highlighted on the team’s winning record last year and he said that he believes that team is improving with every year.
Herbst also said he believes that the team did not need to make many adjustments from last season.
“I think we need to just trust the process,” Herbst said. “The coaches have put in a plan for us and our coaches have recruited us to stick to that plan.”
Herbst explained the team’s overall mindset going into the series against the Gorillas.
“You know, being the first games of the year, I think it’s kind of a lot of excitement. I think it’s important for us to tame that excitement a little bit. So, we don’t really go out there a little too antsy or anything,” Herbst said.
The Winona State Warriors opened a three-game series against the Pittsburg State team in Kansas on Friday, Feb. 7.
The Warriors ran away with both the first game of the series and the Warriors season.
The Warriors claimed dominance against Pittsburg State University by taking the entire series 2-1 in the last game.
Pittsburg State and Winona State split a twin bill in last season’s matchups.
Senior pitcher Aaron Mutter tossed five scoreless innings in the start for the Warriors while allowing only three hits and completing six strikeouts.
Junior infielder Zac Stange led off the first with one of his three walks in the ballgame and advanced to scoring position on a single by senior first base Sam Kohnle.
Senior outfielder Andrew Pliner hit a two-out single to right field to send Stange home for the first run.
Senior catcher Nick Nalewanski reached first base with a one-out walk. The senior then proceeded to steal second base and score on an RBI-single by freshman outfielder Nick Herbst, making the game 2-0.
After Winona State added an insurance run in the top of the seventh on a sac fly by senior first base Sam Kohnle, Pittsburg State’s offense was able to get to the Warrior bullpen.
In his second inning, first-year pitcher Bailey Banaszynski was charged with a pair of runs as the Gorillas made it a 3-2 affair. However, the rookie right-hander was able to work out of trouble in the bottom of the seventh to keep the lead intact.
Sophomore pitcher Justin Firpo worked a scoreless eighth inning for the Warriors before handing the ball over to Herold for the final three outs of the game.
Stange, Nalewanksi and Hersbt combined for three runs, two hits and an RBI in the outing.
The Warriors and Gorillas wrapped up their series on Saturday, Feb. 9 with a doubleheader after rescheduling Sunday’s game due to expected rain.
The Warriors lost the first game of the doubleheader 10-9 despite leading Pittsburg State 9-5 in the ninth inning. However, Winona State proved it was the better team in the second game with a 10-3 win to take the series.
Junior pitcher Austin Savary was the game two winner, tossing four scoreless innings in relief of sophomore pitcher Kyle Gendron.
Junior pitcher Dillon Whittaker pitched well enough to earn a win in game one, but was saddled with a no decision after the Gorillas jumped on closer.
The Warriors scored early and often in game one, plating six runs over the first two innings. Herbst added a would-be insurance run in the top of the ninth with an RBI-triple, Winona State’s second three-bagger of the affair, but it was not enough.
Williams went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI in the opener while Kohnle was four for five with three RBI.
In game two, the Warriors scratched the plate in the first inning for the third straight ballgame, but found themselves trailing the Gorillas, 3-1, after two innings.
An RBI-double by Kohnle knotted the score in the top of the sixth before the Winona State offense broke out late. The Warriors plated eight runs over the final three innings and outscored the home team 9-0 over the final four frames collectively.
Stange combined 5-for-10 with four RBI and six runs scored in the twin bill.
The Warriors return to the road next weekend looking for a four-game series sweep scheduled at Drury University on February 14 to 16.
The opinions expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of Winona State University, the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, or the Winona State University student body.