Small College Baseball in Minnesota
This article was published in the 2012 The National Pastime.
Some of the finest small college baseball in the country is played in the Upper Midwest. Here’s a look at the conferences which are home to college programs in Minnesota.
NORTHERN SUN INTERCOLLEGIATE CONFERENCE (NSIC)
The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) was formed when the men’s Northern Intercollegiate Conference (NIC) and the women’s Northern Sun Conference (NSC) merged in 1992. The NIC, incorporated in 1932, was a highly competitive small college conference that competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In 1995, the NSIC transitioned to NCAA Division II play, and now includes 14 members, with two more on the way.
Minnesota State University, Mankato, was known as the Mankato State Teachers College when the NIC was formed in 1932, as Minnesota State College when it jumped to the North Central Conference (NCC) in 1968, as Mankato State University when Dean Bowyer became head baseball coach in 1977, and as Minnesota State University, Mankato 31 years later, when Bowyer retired with a 990–487–7 record. The Mavericks, who joined the NSIC after the NCC disbanded in 2008, won 28 conference championships and made 29 NCAA tournament appearances between 1960 and 2011. Four former Mavericks have played in the major leagues: Bob Will, Jerry Terrell, Gary Mielke, and Todd Revenig.
St. Cloud State University was called the St. Cloud State Teachers College when it began baseball play in 1924 in the Minnesota State League. The Huskies joined the NIC as one of six charter members in 1932, moved to the NCC in 1942, and entered the NSIC in 2008. By 2011, the Huskies had won 17 conference championships, made three NAIA World Series appearances, finishing third twice, and more recently, made three NCAA Division II playoff appearances. Head Coach Denny Lorsung posted more than 500 career wins between 1979 and 2007 and seven former Huskies have played in the major leagues: Eldon “Rip” Repulski, Greg Thayer, Jim Eisenrich, Dana Kiecker, Gary Serum, Bob Hegman and Mike Poepping.
Bemidji (MN) State University, a NIC charter member, was known in 1932 as Bemidji State Teachers College. The Beavers played in the NAIA World Series in 1982, and have made five NCAA playoff appearances.
Minnesota State University, Moorhead was known as Moorhead State Teachers College in 1932 when the Dragons joined the NIC for its initial year, and later became Moorhead State College before becoming a Minnesota State University.
University of Minnesota–Duluth was the Duluth State Teachers College in 1932, one of the six NIC charter members. The Bulldogs left the NIC, then returned in 1972, moved to the NCC in 2004, and joined the NSIC when the NCC disbanded in 2008.
Winona (MN) State University began baseball play in 1919 and joined the NIC at its inception. The Warriors made six NAIA World Series appearances and had won 31 conference championships prior to the 2012 season. Legendary coach Gary Grob won 1,020 games in 35 seasons, and current coach Kyle Poock led his team to the 2011 Central Region championship and second place in the NCAA Division II finals.
Southwest Minnesota State (Marshall) University joined the NSIC in 1969. Jim Denevan coached the Mustangs for 21 years, and Paul Blanchard led the Mustangs to an NCAA tourney appearance in 2009. Blanchard is the son of Johnny Blanchard, a schoolboy legend at Minneapolis Central High School, who went on to play for the New York Yankees.
Two other Minnesota schools joined the Northern Sun in 1999: the University of Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles, and the Concordia University (St. Paul) Golden Bears. Three former Concordia players have made it to the major leagues, including Dick Siebert, an All-Star first baseman in 1943 who later coached the University of Minnesota to three College World Series titles.
The conference has also expanded beyond Minnesota. The Northern State University (Aberdeen, SD) Wolves joined the NSIC in 1978 and the Wayne (NE) State College Wildcats entered in 1998. The University of Mary (Bismarck, ND) joined the NSIC in 2006. The Marauders had won one Dakota Athletic Conference championship and had made three NAIA playoff regional appearances. The Upper Iowa (Fayetteville, IA) Peacocks also joined the NSIC in 2006, and the Augustana College (Sioux Falls, SD) Vikings were a longtime North Central Conference member before entering the NSIC in 2008.
Two teams joined the NSIC in 2012, the University of Sioux Falls (SD) Cougars from the South Dakota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and the Minot (ND) State Beavers, who were North Dakota Athletic Conference champions five times.
THE MINNESOTA INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) consists of 13 private colleges from around the state, including 11 that play a highly competitive level of Division III baseball. One of the oldest and most stable conferences in the country, the MIAC was formed in 1920. All seven original members of the conference are members today: the Carleton College (Northfield) Knights, The Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter) Gusties, the Hamline University (St. Paul) Pipers, the Macalester College (St. Paul) Scots, the St. John’s University (Collegeville) Johnnies, the St. Olaf College (Northfield) Oles, and the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul) Tommies. The Concordia College (Moorhead) Cobbers have been members since 1921, the Augsburg College (Minneapolis) Auggies since 1924, and the St. Mary’s University (Winona) Cardinals since 1926.
There has little turnover among the league’s members. Both Carleton and St. Olaf left, but rejoined, Minnesota–Duluth was a member for 25 years, and the Bethel University (St. Paul) Royals are relative newcomers, having joined the conference in 1978. Two women’s colleges also are MIAC members, St. Catherine University (St. Paul) and the College of St. Benedict (St. Joseph).
The league has boasted its share of outstanding players and coaches. Dennis Denning led St. Thomas to seven straight MIAC titles and 11 in 15 seasons. (He also coached 17 seasons at St. Paul’s Cretin–Derham High.) He compiled a 522–157 record, and led the Tommies to 14 NCAA playoff appearances. His teams made four Division III World Series appearances, finished second twice and won national championships in 2001 and 2009. He ranks first among Division III coaches with a .769 winning percentage. In earlier years Angelo Giuliani of St. Paul, Francis “Red” Hardy, a Marmath, North Dakota native, Larry Miggins, Johnny Rigney, Rip Conway, and Chuck Hiller went on to play in the major leagues. Hamline’s Howie “The Steeple” Schultz also played in the majors and enjoyed a career in the National Basketball Association. Lew Drill, another former Piper, also was a major leaguer, back in the first decade of the twentieth century. Three-time MIAC Most Valuable Player Chris Coste, a former Concordia Cobber, played in the 2008 World Series with the Phillies before returning to his alma mater as an assistant to head coach Bucky Burgau. Burgau has more than 600 wins to his credit and four MIAC Coach of the Year Awards. Former major leaguer Brian Raabe coaches Bethel. Jim Dimick served as head coach at St. Olaf for 26 seasons between 1967 and 1994, and Matt McDonald posted 428 wins in 17 seasons for the Oles through 2011. Augsburg’s Mike Davison, Concordia’s Arlo Brunsberg, and St. Mary’s Lefty Bertrand and Dave Thies all played in the major leagues.
THE UPPER MIDWEST ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Known as the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) since 1983, the league was founded in 1972 as the Twin Rivers Conference, and consists of eight Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin schools that play NCAA Division III baseball. The Northwestern College (Roseville, MN) Eagles are the league’s lone remaining charter member, but have been joined by the Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato) Vikings, the Crown College (St. Bonifacius) Storm, the Martin Luther College (New Ulm) Knights, the University of Minnesota, Morris Cougars, the Northland College (Ashland, WI) Lumberjacks, the Presentation College (Aberdeen, SD) Saints, and the College of St. Scholastica (Duluth, MN) Saints. Kerry Ligtenberg played at UM Morris before moving on to the University of Minnesota and later the major leagues.
There are also 17 Minnesota colleges that play National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball.
DOUG SKIPPER is a marketing research, customer satisfaction, and public opinion consultant from Apple Valley, Minnesota, who reads and writes about baseball and engages in father-daughter dancing. A Colorado product who has resided in Wyoming and North Dakota, he has been a SABR member since 1982. He researched and wrote four biographies for "Deadball Stars of the American League," and has contributed to several SABR biographical publications. Doug and his wife, Kathy, have two daughters, MacKenzie and Shannon.
Johnson, Scot. “Jim Eisenreich.” In Minnesotans in Baseball, edited by Stew Thornley. Minneapolis, MN: Nodin Press, 2008.
Hamman, Rex. “Angelo Giuliani.” In Minnesotans in Baseball, edited by Stew Thornley. Minneapolis, MN: Nodin Press, 2008.
Peterson, Armand and Tom Tomashek, Town Ball, The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006
Rekela, George. “Rip Repulski.” In Minnesotans in Baseball, edited by Stew Thornley. Minneapolis, MN: Nodin Press, 2008.
Thornley, Stew, ed, Minnesotans in Baseball. Minneapolis, MN: Nodin Press, 2008.
Thornley, Stew, Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006.
One or more of the media guides, yearbooks, and websites for each of the colleges mentioned in this article were consulted.