The Golden Eagles get the season started in paradise.

    The University of Minnesota Crookston baseball program will officially open up the 2018 season Fri., Feb. 9 as they open a four-game series with Hawai’i Pacific University. The Golden Eagles will take on the Sharks at Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu, Hawai’i. The game times will be late in Crookston due to the five-hour time different from Minnesota to Hawai’i. The first game will Fri., Feb. 9 will have first pitch at 11 p.m. C.T. On Saturday, the Golden Eagles will play at 7 and 9:30 p.m. C.T. The finale will commence at 5 p.m. C.T. Sun., Feb. 11.

    Minnesota Crookston is looking to start off on the right foot after earning back-to-back appearances at the NSIC Tournament for the first time in school history. The Golden Eagles have had one of the biggest turnarounds in college baseball in the last three years, winning 63 games under Head Coach Steve Gust after winning just two games in the previous two seasons prior to his arrival in 2015. The Golden Eagles finished 2017 with a 24-28 (18-20 NSIC) mark, the second-best record in program history.

    Minnesota Crookston returns a very strong pitching staff. The majority of their arms return after posting a 4.73 ERA last season. The Golden Eagles are led on the bump by three returning starters. Sophomore Justin Yutrzenka, junior Parker Hanson and senior Jacob Butcher all had strong seasons in 2017. Yutrzenka was 4-3 with a 4.52 ERA last season in nine starts. Butcher went 6-3 with a 4.62 ERA in 50.2 innings pitched, while Hanson was 4-3 with a 4.93 ERA in 69.1 innings pitched.

    In addition, Minnesota Crookston has one of the best closers in all of Division II college baseball in righty Zach Seipel. Seipel posted a 1-4 mark last season with a 2.41 ERA and 12 saves. Seipel has had 23 saves in his first two seasons with the Golden Eagles.

    Minnesota Crookston is looking to improve at the plate after hitting just .255 as a team in 2017. The Golden Eagles are optimistic after a strong fall at the plate, led by the installation of Taylor Steen as hitting coach. Steen has had an instant impact in the batting cages. Minnesota Crookston looks to Reed Hjelle (Jr., 1B, East Grand Forks, Minn.), who hit .339 last season with seven doubles, 32 runs scored and 26 RBIs. Hjelle also has a terrific glove at first base as he earned the NSIC Gold Glove in 2017. The Golden Eagles also boast center fielder Anthony Stewart (Sr., OF, Oak Harbor, Wash.), who hit .332 with a team-high 47 runs scored, five home runs and 34 RBIs. Stewart is also the premier center fielder in all of Division II college baseball after earning the ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove last season. Ethan Mushitz (Sr., SS, East Grand Forks, Minn.) also returns as a four-year starter for the Golden Eagles. Mushitz hit .261 as a junior, but looks poised for improvement as a senior.

    Hawai’i Pacific posted a 20-28-2 mark on the 2017 season. The Sharks hit .263 as a team with 71 doubles and 14 home runs last season. Hawai’i Pacific is led by Codi Santana, who hit .298 with 21 runs scored, seven doubles, two triples, one home run and 25 RBIs. In addition, Wyatt Hoppie returns after hitting .292 with 24 runs scored, eight doubles, four triples, four home runs and 31 RBIs. Kreston Woods also is back in the fold after hitting .276 for the Sharks last season.

    On the mound, Hawaii Pacific posted a 4.20 ERA last season. The Sharks are led by Tyler Van Stone, who went 2-2 in 11 appearances last season. Van Stone posted a 3.38 ERA with 54 strikeouts. William Clemens also returns after making four starts last season. Clemens was 1-4 with a 3.69 ERA with 19 strikeouts.

    Friday’s series opener is also the season opener for both teams.