In Jake Dykhoff, high-scoring Golden Eagles also have an ace
Jake Dykhoff was confident from pretty much the moment he stepped outside Saturday.
Dykhoff calls himself a "warm-weather pitcher." When the sun is shining and the temperature starts creeping up, it's easier for him to get his muscles loose and get his stuff working the way it should.
The temperature in Crookston Saturday hovered in the mid to high-50s. There weren't too many clouds in the sky, meaning it felt only warmer.
As Dykhoff went through his long toss routine, he felt free and springy. Nothing tight. The right arm that had produced two shutouts in a row was in perfect working condition.
"I could just tell it was going to be a good day," he said.
The shutout streak came to an end Saturday, but it's hard to imagine Dykhoff being too broken up about it. The junior went the distance in Minnesota Crookston's 4-2 win in seven innings over Concordia-St. Paul, striking out 14 Golden Bears while not walking a single batter.
Dykhoff's 14 strikeouts tied a school single-game record, set by Jayden Grover against Saint Anselm last March. Dykhoff did it in one less inning than Grover.
"I had no idea what the strikeout record was going into the game," Dykhoff said. "I honestly had no idea. I was just out there pitching, doing my thing."
When Dykhoff, a junior college transfer from Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, committed to the Golden Eagles last May, coach Steve Gust hailed him as an immediate frontline starter in the NSIC. Gust and UMC had been recruiting Dykhoff for years, and treated him as their top pitching target.
In a way, it was a steal. Dykhoff at one point was committed to Division I North Dakota State after a stellar high school career at Wadena-Deer Creek. Per the Wadena Pioneer-Journal, his college choice last spring came down to UMC along with two DI schools: Maryland-Baltimore County and Purdue Fort Wayne.
With a fastball that touches the low 90s, strong off-speed pitches including a wipeout slider and solid changeup and good command of all of those pitches, Dykhoff's stuff is already up there with the best in the NSIC and the nation, in Gust's opinion.
Here's the thing: Gust thinks he's only scratched the surface of his potential.
"He's just learning this game," Gust said. "He's got the physical ability, he's learning mentally and he's always been a competitor. He's got all the tools to be an elite pitcher in the country."
Which begs the question: what level is Dykhoff at right now?
Where was Dykhoff when he sat down nine St. Cloud State hitters in his first start for UMC? Or when he whiffed 10 Winona State batters in a shutout on March 20? Or in his lone relief outing, a save against Sioux Falls on March 25? Or in a seven-inning blanking of Upper Iowa just three days later?
Dykhoff wasn't perfect against Concordia-St. Paul. He gave up seven hits, including a fifth-inning home run to Nick Thimsen. The Golden Bears struggled to make contact against him, but when they did, it was of the hard, dangerous variety.
Dykhoff wouldn't have struck out half of the batters he faced Saturday without having his best stuff. He blew his fastball past CSP's hitters to start out, and before they could catch on, he froze them with his off-speed repertoire. He hammered the strike zone all game long.
But none of that was what impressed Gust most about his performance.
"Do I think he was great? No, but that's the kind of pitcher he is," Gust said. "He's able to get us quality innings, he fills up the strike zone with two or three pitches, and he competes, man. I don't know if there's a bigger competitor in the country than Jake."
In big situations, according to Gust, Dykhoff just wants the ball in his hand. On Saturday, that couldn't have been more true. To boot: Dykhoff ended all seven innings via strikeout — including the final frame, in which he fanned Thimsen just two innings after surrendering a homer to him.
That competitiveness — as much as his 3-0 record, 0.96 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 28 innings — is what makes Dykhoff an ace.
"Slider's been really good, fastball's been spotting up, but just pitching with confidence really is the key," Dykhoff said of his performance through the season's first month. "Can't go out there and think you're gonna get hit around. Just gotta go out there with confidence and do your thing."
Concordia-St. Paul's own pitchers had their way with the Golden Eagles' normally potent lineup Saturday. UMC scored four runs in the first inning, largely thanks to three Golden Bear errors, but didn't score after that. A team that came in averaging 11.2 runs per game scored just 10 runs for the entire doubleheader.
But when a bonafide ace like Dykhoff takes the mound, the Golden Eagles know they can win any type of game.
If it's balmy enough, that's just an added bonus.
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