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041118-spt-umary-baseball

University of Mary interim head baseball coach Kevin Walsh watches pitcher Trevor Zacher during team drills inside the campus Health and Wellness Center on Tuesday. It's been a difficult season for the Marauders, who are on another long road trip to Minnetonka, Minn., today to face Concordia-St. Paul.

MIKE MCCLEARY, TRIBUNE

By any measure, it’s been a trying season for the University of Mary baseball team.

An early season coaching change has been followed by a weather-induced endless series of long bus rides just to get on the diamond. Then there’s the losing, the Marauders have just two wins in 28 games.

Through it all, however, interim head coach Kevin Walsh has remained upbeat and sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“The best way I can sum it up is our season has been adversity in a nutshell,” said Walsh. “The character of our team has been tested. It’s been frustrating, difficult, trying, all those things. But that’s what life is about. We all go through tough times, how you respond to adversity is what determines your character.

“What I’m really proud about is how our guys have responded. Our approach has been to continue to work hard, stay positive and try to build for the future.”

Walsh was named interim coach last month when previous head coach Joel Barta was placed on administrative leave and then eventually let go. Walsh has aspirations of becoming a college baseball head coach and will let the process unfold at the University of Mary.

“I want to pursue head coaching, absolutely, but in my role now I’m focusing on doing whatever I can to help move this program forward,” Walsh said. “I’m very thankful to the University of Mary and (athletic director) Dale Lennon for this opportunity.”

Walsh, a 2015 draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies as a pitcher, had been an assistant coach for the Marauders since 2017. He’s also a coach in the Bismarck American Legion program. He called having to replace Barta, "a tough situation.”

“It was important to keep the team together because we still had games to play,” he said. “More than ever we needed to believe in ourselves, believe in the team and stay committed to working hard and trying to get better every day.”

The Marauders have played games in six states, but not once in Bismarck. Whether they get a home game at all this season is probably 50-50. They were scheduled to host Concordia-St. Paul on Wednesday, but instead they’ll play those games today in Minnetonka, Minn. This weekend’s doubleheaders against Southwest Minnesota State were supposed to be in Bismarck, but there’s little chance of that happening with another storm bearing down. The final home games of the season are scheduled for May 4-5 against Minot State.

“The biggest thing is we want to play. We don’t want anybody to think we’re scared,” Walsh said. “It’s been a lot of travel and our guys are a little sick of that. They want to play at home. They want to play in front of somebody.

“But at the same time they’ve embraced it. There’s been a lot of classwork on the road. They’ve been hitting the books and the laptops hard.”

Despite the lack of success in the win column, Walsh has seen progress on the field.

Hazen’s Connor Doll and Jaxon Ford have provided a spark at the top of the lineup and Walsh raved about Ford’s defense in center field.

“Nobody can hit it over his head,” Walsh said of the Bismarck High product.

Doll, a junior, is hitting .284, while Ford’s sitting at .264 with a team-best 12 stolen bases.

Jesus Payan has been a tough out all season, leading the Marauders in batting average (.394) and RBIs (18) out of the 3-hole. Doll, Ford and Payan all return next season.

Nick McCann also drew high marks from Walsh for his play at shortstop.

On the mound, Jake Johnson turned in a complete-game gem against Minnesota State Mankato recently. Colin Gudereit fired a stellar seven-inning performance last weekend against Augustana, the No. 3-ranked team in NCAA Division II.

In the bullpen, Charles Bielejeski has been a steady arm for Walsh, who is optimistic this season’s struggles will lead to long term success.

“After every game we go back and reconstruct every strikeout, every missed bunt, every pitch we didn’t execute … every opportunity we didn’t take advantage of and then bring those mistakes to practice and put our guys in uncomfortable situations to try and learn from them,” Walsh said. “It’s OK to fail. Baseball is a game of managing your failure and then trying to grow and learn from your mistakes.”

The East Coast product is adopting a familiar theme from one of his hometown teams.

“We have to trust the process. I’m from Philadelphia. Who would know better about trusting the process than a Philly guy, right?” Walsh joked.

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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Sports Editor