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Yet Another Tournament Team

by Dan Gunderson

North Dakota State University head baseball coach Tod Brown took the head coaching job at NDSU back in the summer of 2007. Early on, he felt as if he had taken on a daunting task.

"The first month on the job, I use to lay in bed and think, 'What did I do?'," said Brown.

Now, six years after his first team in 2008 won only 15 games, the Bison are headed to the NCAA Tournament. The Bison captured their first ever Summit League Tournament title with a 9-0 win Saturday over Western Illinois University.

The NCAA tournament committee gave the Bison no breaks as they will head out to take on the number one overall seed in the tournament, the Oregon State University Beavers. The first game of the regional will be played on Friday, May 30 in Corvallis, OR, with first pitched scheduled for 10 p.m. CT.

Brown talked about having his team head to the West Coast to take on the Beavers.

"I wanted something pretty special for our players," said Brown. "I wanted to get on a plane. I wanted to go some place that we've never been before. To get the number one team in the country on their field is a special place."

This is the ninth conference championship for a NDSU athletic team during the 2013-14 campaigns. Football, men's basketball, softball, wrestling, women's cross country, women's indoor track and field, men's and women's outdoor track and field and baseball have all captured a conference title.

"When you're in this department, just making the tournament isn't good enough anymore," said Brown. "We have 14 sports and nine have won championships. I'm glad to be part of the department and feel like I can walk around because we are carrying our own weight."

To get to this point, it took some work for Brown and his staff. The Bison baseball team has steadily improved since Brown's first season in 2008. In 2009, they team won 16 games. They followed that up with 22 wins in both 2010 and 2011.

Brown talked about the players that helped contribute to the turnaround for the Bison baseball team.

"Once we started recruiting and we started getting John Straka, Max Casper, Zach Wentz, you could say, 'If we get four years worth of these type guys, we are going to be competitive in the conference'," said Brown.

Finally, in 2012, it all came together. The Bison won 40 games and were just one win away from making the NCAA tournament. However, they lost back-to-back games to Oral Roberts University in the Summit League tournament.

In 2013, the win total was not as large but they still found themselves in the same situation. Just one win away from making the NCAA tournament. However, they would lose back-to-back games to South Dakota State University in the Summit League tournament championship game.

The Bison did not leave anything to chance on Saturday against WIU, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning. One of the biggest hits in that inning was a grand slam from third baseman John Skrbec.

The hit was extremely unexpected coming from Skrbec, who came into the game batting .186 with 12 RBIs and no homers on the season.

The question that usually follows a NDSU team making the NCAA tournament is how does this effect the team in the grand scheme of things?

"Weather is still a big thing in recruiting," said Brown. "But what it does is it legitimizes everything we have been saying as coach and administration of our program. It also makes phone calls a lot easier."

It also makes for a much better opening line to recruits. "How would you like to play for the Summit League champs and NCAA Tournament participant?"

You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called The Pinto and White Shadow Show. Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.