Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
The rising spring temperatures in Fargo have the NDSU campus buzzing about baseball. The boys of the summer are finally back home and ready to entertain the masses at Newman Outdoor Field. Senior starting pitcher Luke Lind ignited the fireworks earlier this season with his dazzling performances from the mound. And with the help of his pitching coach Tyler Oakes, this Bison pitching staff is coming together at a crucial point in the season.
AN ACE AND HIS COACH
The workout was simple. Pitchers versus hitters at the end of practice to claim bragging rights. The rules are easy. A person from one team hits a ball thrown by the coach and runs the bases until two members of the other team touch the ball after it lands. The team touching the ball has to start on first and third base and can’t leave until the ball is hit. For every base gained before the ball is touched by the opposition is how many points you get. It would seem that the hitters have an advantage.
Luke Lind stepped in the batter box with his pitchers down by nine. He was the last player to go and the only hope for his team to win was to knock one out of the park, giving his team 10 points automatically. The 6-foot, 6-inch starting pitcher crushed the ball and sent a line-drive home run over the wall in right field. The pitchers had done the unlikely, and the ace of the Bison staff was the hero.
“That’s the first time I’ve swung it in months,” Lind said, admitting that some fun during practice before a big home series against South Dakota State loosened up the team.
You shouldn’t be surprised Lind hit a practice walk-off home run for his team. In fact, he was recruited to NDSU originally to hit homers and drive in runs. But after his freshman season in 2014 that saw Lind get two hits in 29 plate appearances, head coach Tod Brown and Lind discussed a move to the mound.
“I wanted to make an impact,” Lind, who pitched at Eden Prairie High School, said. “I wanted to help out the squad any way I could and if that was me going to the mound then that’s what it was.”
Pitching coach Tyler Oakes was excited to see what he got to work with when Lind came into his pitching group. “He’s always been a good athlete and (has a) good feel for the game, and he pitched a lot in high school, where the transition was a little easier,” Oakes said.
“He’s a strike thrower, so it’s all about feel, filling up the zone and attacking, and he’s done that from day one. Even when I saw him in high school, he was a guy that threw strikes.”
After being lightly used his sophomore season, Lind picked up more innings his junior year. He made 13 appearances out of the bullpen and struck out 25 batters in 23.1 innings.
His success continued into the summer when Lind was chosen to be a starting pitcher for Green Bay in the Northwoods League. Lind led the summer league in ERA at 1.51. In 10 starts, Lind was one out away from hitting the 60 innings mark, he struck out 54 and only surrendered 10 earned runs.
Lind returned to NDSU this year as the ace of the staff, getting the ball every Friday night.
“When he came to the pitching side, he always had good enough stuff, I just didn’t know if he believed in himself enough,” Oakes said, who now knows his ace has all the right stuff. “The moment isn’t too big for him like it was maybe a year or two ago. For a lot of younger players, the lights come on and it’s different from the bullpen to the mound. He shows his stuff in the bullpen and he takes his stuff with himself to the mound, and he’s seen a lot of success with it.”
Lind attributes his transformation to Oakes and the work they have done mentally preparing for each start. Oakes big focus on the Bison pitching staff is getting his pitchers’ minds ready to take the ball each outing and executing pitches.
Lind has been a prime example of the mental game improving on-field performance. He, along with the other starters on staff, will need to continue having the mental edge as the chase for the Summit League tournament is in full bloom during May.