Photos by Tyler Ingham, Jacob Funk, NDSU Athletics
Ben Petersen proved that head coach Tod Brown and assistant coach Dave Pearson were right when the sophomore led the Bison in hitting. This season, he’s looking to continue his trajectory into stardom and hopes he can bring his team along for the ride.
When Totino-Grace made the 2012 Minnesota AAA State Baseball Tournament, they weren’t expected to make much noise. The Eagles were eliminated in their second game and junior Ben Petersen’s breakout all-conference year was over.
Although Totino-Grace was a blip on the state baseball radar in 2012, Petersen made a lasting impression on one college coach in the stands.
Dave Pearson, a nine-year assistant on head coach Tod Brown’s staff, was in the bleachers at Dunning Field in St. Paul to watch Totino-Grace play Grand Rapids, Minn. in the first round. Grand Rapids, home of former Bison baseball players Kyle Kleinendorst and John Skrbec defeated the Eagles 10-1. Petersen had one hit in three plate appearances.
“I think I had a decent game. Nothing too special,” remembers the junior right fielder.
But Pearson saw something special in Petersen, who was entering the summer before his senior year, which is the biggest season for high school baseball players with college aspirations.
“Just his fast-twitch (muscles), the ball jumps off his bat unlike most kids and he can really run,” Pearson said. “He can pick them up put them down just as good as anybody on the team.”
Pearson invited him to NDSU’s baseball camp that summer. It turned out to be the most influential stop on Petersen’s scouting circuit that summer.
“He came to our camp and we said, ‘We could put him in the batting cage and you wouldn’t know if he was a high school player or somebody on our team’,” Brown said. “That’s because of the amount of pop he has in his bat.”
Petersen was offered a scholarship on the spot. He said the decision was easy for him after touring NDSU’s campus and learning about the tradition of excellence at this university.
What Brown and Pearson saw in the batting cage and during Petersen’s high school career translated quickly. Petersen led the Bison with a .355 batting average in 2015. The outfielder popped three home runs, stole six bases and led the team with 28 runs scored in 49 games. Petersen’s effort earned him second team All-Summit League honors. He was only one of two Bison to claim a postseason award.
“His talent was good enough to play from day one,” Pearson said. “It’s just a matter of making the adjustment to college pitching, seeing breaking balls on a full count. They just don’t throw fastballs over the middle to see how far you can hit it. He’s always handled velocity exceptionally well and I think the next step is understanding how he’s being pitched to and scouting reports and all that stuff that happens at the collegiate level. He’s made a good adjustment.”
Before Petersen made the jump into the starting lineup last season, he had to wait for his chance behind a star-studded outfield his freshman year in 2014.
Tim Colwell – arguably the best Bison baseball player in school history and 2014 Summit League Player of the Year – patrolled center field with three other rotational outfielders in seniors Nick Altavilla and Blake Turbak, and sophomore Jon Hechtner.
“He got limited action, but when he was in there, he showed he could play. He showed that in inter-squad scrimmages all fall,” Brown said about Petersen’s first year in Fargo. “He was really disciplined at the plate, it was something he really grew into. And the other thing he has worked really hard on is his outfield defense. Those were two things that he really needed to work on but he was extremely talented and aggressive.”The Bison won their first Summit League tournament championship in 2014. As a freshman, Petersen said he learned that NDSU is capable of competing with the best college
The Bison won their first Summit League tournament championship in 2014. As a freshman, Petersen said he learned that NDSU is capable of competing with the best college
teams in the nation, but most of all, he learned from the seniors how to play, practice and act like a college ball player.
“Tim Colwell is by far the best captain I’ve ever had, for any sport,” Petersen said. “All those guys really just showed me what it takes to be successful here. They really showed me the way and I can’t thank those guys enough.”
Last season didn’t end well for NDSU. They made their fifth consecutive Summit League tournament but were the first team eliminated. Petersen is looking to turn his team around this season.
In his first year as a starter, junior right fielder Ben Petersen led the Bison with a .355 batting average. He also scored 28 runs and drove in 23.
With Colwell still popping his head in and out of practices this offseason, Petersen has grown into one of the true leaders on the team. Even though he doesn’t say much, Brown said, his effort in practice speaks volumes to the team.
Petersen will most likely slide back into the number three position in the batting order and graze right field, a position where he threw out two base runners last season.
Both Brown and Pearson emphasized the importance of not only Petersen’s production, but the entire lineup’s so Petersen will be protected and not pitched around.
“He does a good job of being able to go from at-bat to at-bat without letting the last at-bat affect him,” Pearson said when he mentioned teams already beginning to pitch around Petersen. “As a collective whole, we need to be able to be on top of our game around him so that way he can continue to be that guy for us.”
As any leader would say, Petersen isn’t worried about being that guy or his personal glory.
“The goal for the team is to combine the 2012 team and the 2014 team to win 40 games and also the Summit League tournament,” Petersen said. “I’m not as focused on personal awards or anything like that, but first team all-conference would be special, but I’m just mainly focused on getting wins for the team.”