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All-American Aces

11/14/2018 - 7:45 PM

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All-American Aces
Miks and Giese each make their return to the weekend rotation in 2019

As St. Cloud State baseball prepared for their 2017 season, two lefthanders were projected to lead the starting rotation.

 

Two-time All-American and reigning NSIC Pitcher of the Year Sheldon Miks was to be counted on as the staff ace in his junior campaign, and redshirt sophomore Cal Giese looked to build upon a stellar first season in which he earned the win in the Huskies’ 2016 NSIC Tournament Championship game.

 

The expectations for the duo to anchor the rotation were dashed just five games into the season, as Miks was pulled from his second start of the year after feeling a pop in his elbow. He wouldn’t throw another pitch in 2017 and underwent Tommy John Surgery in June. Giese took the reigns as the Huskies ace, earning First Team All-NSIC honors and being named Second Team All-Central Region by ABCA/Rawlings.

 

Entering 2018, most pundits were aware that Miks would likely miss most of, if not all the season. However, hopes were high for Giese, as the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) named him a Preseason All-American.

 

Giese didn’t throw a single pitch for the Huskies, as he had been dealing with an elbow issue dating back to his lone 2017 Northwoods League start. He underwent surgery on his elbow in April, effectively ending his season. Miks did make his return to the mound after being cleared for short relief work in late April, but in all it had been a lost season from the two.

 

In 2019 SCSU will finally find their weekend rotation anchored by the two redshirt senior All-Americans, a dream that began all the way back in 2014.

 

Miks and Giese had just wrapped their senior seasons of high school baseball. Miks was a Mr. Minnesota Baseball finalist in his final campaign at Shakopee High School while also earning his second All-State and third All-Section and All-Minneota Conference accolades. Giese had finished a stellar career at Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH), picking up All-State and All-Region honors and being named the #22 prospect in the state of Wisconsin by highly-regarded Prep Baseball Report. Each player had an interesting story as they made their commitments to St. Cloud State.

 

Giese remembered throwing to an old ally in his bullpen for the Huskies’ coaching staff.

 

“I think it was junior year. Dolan came and watched a few high school games, and then I think he watched one of my legion games in the summer. He asked me to come visit, I came and visited St. Cloud in the summer with a few other people…We threw a bullpen in front of him, we actually threw to Michael Jurgella at the time when he was here, which was kinda cool because he went to my high school.”

 

Giese received an offer to become another SPASH product to play for the Huskies on that same visit, and later accepted.

 

Miks’ story was a little interesting.

 

“I actually was coming back from my cabin and got a voicemail from a number I didn’t know. I tried to play the voicemail, it was Dolan, and my phone died so I didn’t actually get to hear the rest of it. I ended up getting a new phone and got another call, and I came on a visit.”

 

Like Giese, Miks received an offer on his visit and later accepted.

 

As Opening Day 2015 loomed, it didn’t appear like Giese and Miks would be together for five seasons.

 

Giese was an accounting major, wasn’t bringing in any college credits, and planned on being on campus for five years. Combining his academic plans with the veteran Huskies staff, he redshirted in 2015.

 

Miks was expected to play a role on the Huskies staff as a true freshman, and made a statement attesting to those projections in his collegiate debut.

 

The 6’4 lefthander fired 7.0 innings in his first start on March 1st, 2015 at Harding University, allowing just 2 unearned runs on 4 hits and a walk while striking out 4. Eight days later at the Tucson Invitational, he delivered his first career complete game against Arizona Christian, allowing an earned run on 8 hits with 4 punchouts. Miks quickly ascended to the top of the Huskies’ rotation, joining Reese Gregory, Garrett Harrison, Ryan Diers, and Logan Spitzak as one of the most formidable rotations in the Nation.

 

Miks produced one of the greatest seasons in St. Cloud State history, going 10-2 with a 1.15 ERA, a 2.45 FIP, and a 0.837 WHIP across 86.0 innings. He appeared in 16 games with 12 starts, twirling 7 complete games and 4 shutouts. He struck out 59 and walked just 11, holding opponents to a mind-blowing slash line of .196/.225/.244 for a .469 OPS against. His strikeout rate stood at 18.1%, with a miniscule walk rate of 3.4%. The lefty earned a laundry list of accolades, being named a Daktronics DII All-American, NCBWA All-Central Region, NSIC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-NSIC, and was selected to the NSIC All-Tournament Team.

 

Sheldon credited both his tremendous lineup and his All-American senior catcher, Michael Jurgella, for his success.

 

Regarding Jurgella, Miks praised the backstop’s IQ for the game.

 

“He was always two steps ahead of everything. He always knew what was going to happen, as far as pitch-calling, and we were always on the same page. He put down a number, I nodded my head, and that was pretty much how it went. I already had the grip in my hand, and he made it so simple. I didn’t have to think, and I could just go throw.”

 

His first career postseason start still stands as one of his best collegiate outings, as he struck out 9 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in a complete game two-hit shutout to send the Huskies to Championship Sunday of the 2015 NSIC Tournament.

 

He faltered in the NCAA Central Region Tournament, taking his first two losses of his career. Both came at the hands of Henderson State University, the first coming in the Tournament opener. Miks allowed 9 runs, just 2 earned, over 7.1 innings. He surrendered 9 hits and walked one while striking out 5. A three-run 5th inning home run by Claude Johnson after a two-out error by Kyle Lieser put the Reddies in front, then an error in the eighth turned into four more unearned runs.

 

The #1 ranked Huskies fought their way back into the Central Region Championship game against Henderson State. SCSU knocked Reddies swingman Luke Tebbetts out of the game in the third, leading 7-2. Henderson brought the game even at 7 in the eighth after receiving a dominant 6.0 inning effort from fireman reliever Jordan Taylor. With the season on the line, St. Cloud State first turned to 13-0 NSIC Pitcher of the Year Reese Gregory for an inning plus, then brought Miks out of the pen for the bottom of the 10th. Miks promptly surrendered a double to A.J. Kruzel, then a walk-off single by Hayden Lessenberry after a sacrifice bunt ended the Huskies season.

 

After the heart-wrenching end to the St. Cloud State season, Miks joined the St. Cloud Rox of the Northwoods League. Facing elite college baseball talent every outing, his legend grew even more with a dominant summer performance.

Miks posted a 5-1 record across 13 appearances, starting 8 games and posting a 2.74 ERA and a 2.84 FIP across 49.1 innings for the Rox. He struck out 49, walked 14, recorded a 1.196 WHIP, and held opponents to an ugly .590 OPS.

 

The experience helped him greatly.

 

“It was eye-opener, more than anything. It’s just such a grind, to go out to the baseball field every single day and try and compete against top-tier talent. That was the biggest thing for me, was I needed to focus every single day, and then have my best stuff every single day, otherwise it was going to be a struggle. You can’t get away with making a few bad pitches in an at-bat with some of those hitters, otherwise they’re going to punish you.”

 

He also made a significant connection with his future pitching coach, then-University of North Dakota weekend starter Brett DeGagne.

 

“He came a little later in the season, probably three weeks in, and we were at Waterloo. He showed up, and everybody was kind of wondering who the new guy was. So I got to talking with him, we hit it off, and from there on out we pretty much worked out and played catch every day for the rest of the summer. That was one guy who really had a big impact on developing a mental side of the game for me.”

 

Following his summer in the Woods’, all eyes were on St. Cloud State entering the 2016 season.

 

The sophomore Miks would serve as the staff “Ace A” to senior Reese Gregory’s “Ace B”, and the Huskies boasted a senior-laden lineup featuring Gregory, Lieser, Brandon Arnold, Karl Sorenson, Zach Hoffmann, and Zak Hoffman. With Spitzak moving into Gregory’s closing role and Harrison graduated, the Huskies had a few questions needing to be answered in their rotation.

 

Cal Giese made his collegiate debut on the big stage at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, striking out 5 and allowing 2 earned runs over 2.0 relief frames against St. Mary’s University. He won his first career start at the Tucson Invitational against Briar Cliff, working 5.0 innings and allowing 3 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks, punching out 7. He primarily spent his redshirt freshman season as a starter for SCSU, making two more relief outings along the way.

 

Giese chartered a 7-2 record over his 10 appearances and 7 starts, throwing 44.2 innings to the tune of a 4.03 ERA. His FIP stood at stellar 2.83, just behind Gregory as second-best on the staff among starters. He struck out 61 and walked 14, producing strong rates of 28.4% and 6.5% respectively. The strikeout rate tied him with Bolder for the highest among Huskies with at least 3 appearances.

 

Much like his counterpart Miks, Giese’s first collegiate postseason start was a memorable one.

 

The lefthander received the win in the Huskies’ 2016 NSIC Tournament Championship-clinching 6-4 victory over Concordia-St. Paul, dealing 5.0 innings of 5-hit ball and allowing 2 earned while striking out 5.

 

Giese played with his hometown Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League following the 2016 season, going 3-3 with a 3.79 FIP over 12 appearances and 7 starts.

 

Miks’ 2016 wasn’t too shabby either.

 

He made his season debut on February 7th with a complete-game victory over the University of Central Missouri at Minute Maid Park, allowing one run across 9.0 innings on 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out a career-high 12, earning NSIC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. Better feel for his cutter allowed his strikeout numbers to jump in his sophomore campaign.

 

The Huskies’ ace posted another dominant season, going 8-3 with a 1.96 ERA and a 2.96 FIP across 87.1 innings, making 16 appearances and 11 starts. He struck out 79 and walked just 8, finishing with a 1.122 WHIP, a .667 opponent OPS, a 21.8% K rate and an eye-popping 2.2% walk rate. Miks was named an NCBWA Honorable Mention All-American, NCBWA Central Region Pitcher of the Year, NSIC Pitcher of the Year, Consensus NCBWA First Team All-Region, a Tomko Award Top 10 Finalist, a member of the NSIC All-Tournament Team, and First Team All-NSIC.

 

For the second straight season, Miks sent SCSU to Championship Sunday of the NSIC Tournament, setting the stage for Giese in the clincher. Sheldon fired 7.0 scoreless frames of 6-hit ball against Concordia-St. Paul, striking out 9.

In the 2016 NCAA Central Region Tournament, the Huskies lost 1-0 in the opening game, a memorable 11 inning thriller to Minnesota State-Mankato.

 

Miks was handed the ball with the season on the line the next morning against Missouri Western State but was pulled about 50 pitches in after the Huskies took a 6-1 lead after two. SCSU’s next elimination game came versus Emporia State the next day. Up a run in the top of the sixth, the Huskies turned to Miks out of the bullpen. Just a day after throwing around 50 pitches, he fired 125 pitches across 7.0 innings of 3-run ball, taking the season-ending loss in extras.

 

Despite coming up short once again in the NCAA Regional Tournament and graduating nearly their entire lineup, St. Cloud State still had plenty of areas to be excited about entering 2017.

 

Chief among them was Sheldon Miks’ hyped-up junior season.

 

Miks received his first career Opening Day start at U.S. Bank Stadium against Gus Varland and the Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears, tossing 4.0 innings of 3-run ball on 7 hits and 4 strikeouts. A mistake changeup to CSP’s Zach Elder turned into a game-deciding 2-run shot to dead center, giving Miks his first loss of the year.

 

On March 6th, the Huskies took on Southwest Minnesota State at the Tucson Invitational. The Huskies led 3-0 going into the bottom of the third. Then came a moment that would dramatically change the course of St. Cloud State’s season.

 

It’s best to let Sheldon Miks tell this part of the story.

 

“I threw a curveball to Metzger. And I threw it about 40 feet. 40, 50 feet. I felt a pop in my elbow. So I’m kind of sitting there on the mound a little bit, and I catch the ball back from Metzger. I kind of walk around the mound, take a second…I get back on the mound, and Metzger noticed something, so from then on he called just fastballs. Eight pitches later I get out of the inning, Metzger comes up to me, and he goes ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘Well, I felt a pop in my elbow and it hurts to throw.’ I sat down on the bench, DeGagne comes up to me and kind of asked the same question, and I said, ‘I’m done. It hurts to even throw a fastball.’”

 

David Kroger and Zach Siggelkow finished off the Huskies’ win, but the team’s concern was on Miks’ left elbow. The ace was shut down and underwent an MRI. He received the diagnosis during the Huskies’ NSIC Regular Season opener on the road at the University of Sioux Falls.

 

He had torn his left Ulnar Collateral Ligament.

 

Tommy John Surgery.

 

“I had the MRI a few weeks later after we got back from Arizona, we were on a road trip at Augie. I was shagging foul balls, and our trainer came up to me and said we need to talk. I kind of knew what it was about. And she goes, ‘Well, it’s torn.’ I said, ‘Okay, well, so what’s the next step?’ There was a lot of things going through my mind at that time, and it was…it was pretty tough, mentally, to know that I was done for the rest of the year and probably the following year…it was a lot of emotion going through my head at that one instance. I still remember that to this day. I just kind of sat out there in the outfield. I was actually behind the fence, shagging home run balls, because Augustana’s fence is short. I just kind of sat there, and just kind of thought for the thirty minutes that we took BP.” Miks remembered.

 

Suddenly, the Huskies no longer had their ace. They needed someone to step up and fill the massive void left in their weekend rotation.

 

And boy, did Cal Giese step up in his redshirt sophomore season.

 

The southpaw went 9-2 with a 1.86 ERA and a 2.01 FIP across 13 starts and 72.2 innings, striking out 19 and holding opponents to a .238/.293/.275 slash line for a .568 opponent OPS. Giese struck out hitters at a 26.2% clip while issuing walks at just a 6.3% rate. He was named NCBWA Honorable Mention All-Central Region, ABCA/Rawlings Second Team All-Central Region, and First Team All-NSIC.

 

One of his many stellar starts was a duel with undefeated 2017 NCBWA Division II Pitcher of the Year Jacob Blank and the Augustana Vikings in game two of the 2017 NSIC Tournament. Giese struck out 8 over 6.0 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks as both he and Blank took no-decisions in the eventual Huskies victory.

 

Giese then carved up Missouri Western State in the Huskies’ first NCAA Central Region Tournament game, firing 6.0 shutout innings of 4-hit baseball, walking none and striking out 7 Griffons as he won his ninth game of the year.

Following SCSU’s Regional exit, Giese rejoined the Rafters in the Northwoods League. After his first start, Giese felt something was amiss.

 

“I had some elbow pain in my first Northwoods start that summer, I think it was June 2nd or June 3rd. I threw 5.0 innings, still threw fine, but I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to get this checked out,’ and I stopped playing baseball for the rest of the summer. I had a couple MRI’s, nothing UCL damage, nothing wrong with it. I went to Dr. Buss in Minneapolis, and he said, ‘Your ulnar nerve is flipping over your bone in your elbow.’”

 

Giese underwent Ulnar Nerve Transposition Surgery on April 3rd.

The NCBWA wasn’t aware of Giese’s injury, naming him a Preseason All-American.

 

St. Cloud State battled through their 2018 season without their two All-American rotation anchors. Despite a pitching staff held together with pins and needles and just 10 healthy position players, the Huskies made yet another NCAA Central Region Tournament appearance, largely due to the emergence of new staff ace and then-junior righthander Dominic Austing.

 

Just before the 2018 NSIC Tournament, Sheldon Miks was cleared for short relief. The Huskies fell behind 7-3 at Bemidji State on April 28th.

326 days removed from Tommy John Surgery, the two-time All-American trotted out of the bullpen for his first appearance since the fateful start against SMSU.

 

He’ll never forget that moment.

 

“Warming up in the bullpen, I remember, we got down kind of early into that game, so I kind of knew I was coming in. Warming up, I felt pretty good, or good enough to where I was confident, and felt that my arm wasn’t going to implode on me. I remember running out to the mound, our parents had a little bleacher right by our dugout, and they gave me a pretty good applause. That was probably one of the coolest things that I’ve had happen to me in my career. Jogging out to the mound, hearing all those parents cheering for me…that was…something that I will remember for a long time.” said Miks.

 

Miks struck out the first batter he faced, swinging. Then, a flyout. He capped off the 1-2-3 inning by striking out Bemidji State great Scott Litchy on three pitches.

 

Huskies closer Nathan Strobel had gone down with an injury earlier in the season, so Miks was inserted as the new SCSU stopper out of the pen’. He picked up a save in the Huskies’ NCAA Central Region Tournament win over Central Oklahoma, allowing a single before striking out the last batter of the game.

 

The lefthander threw 3.0 innings in his 3 appearances of 2018, allowing just 1 hit and striking out 5.

 

Both Miks and Giese have been cleared to return to their roles as starters in their redshirt senior seasons. Miks will be almost two years removed from Tommy John, while Giese’s surgery is relatively low-impact on post-operation production.

 

With the NSIC’s move to three-game weekend series' in 2019, the Huskies are in position to boast arguably the best weekend rotation in the Nation. Dominic Austing will likely be named a Preseason All-American, giving SCSU three All-Americans on their weekend staff. Combining 2018 Division II NJCAA All-American Blake Flint, debatably the NSIC’s best swingman in Kyle Boser; Strobel, Matt Butler, Zach Walz, Zach Iten, Shannon Ahern, Aaron Hammann, DJ Wyman, Matt Osterberg, and Trevor Koenig, the Huskies have the deepest staff they’ve had in years.

 

After years of heartbreaking Regional exits, Miks and Giese think the missing piece has been found.

 

“I think this is the deepest staff of the teams I’ve been on, and I think having a strong bullpen and having options as starters. Yeah it’s great to have three or four locked-in starters, but having options of guys that can throw fifth, sixth, seventh games if needed, having that option and also knowing that games can be shut down with great guys out of the bullpen is one of the most important keys to making deep runs in the playoffs.” said Giese.

 

Miks concurred, “Yeah, this is hands-down the deepest staff I’ve ever been a part of. Even my freshman year, when we went 55-4 or whatever it was, we only had Gregory, Harrison, Spitzak, Diers, if you want to include me. I mean, that’s five guys…we have top to bottom, its 18 guys that can go out there and put up 3.0-4.0 scoreless innings on any given day.”

 

It’s not exactly the dream the St. Cloud State fans had five years ago, but the stars certainly seem to be aligning in 2019 as the program hunts for its first College World Series appearance.

 

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