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Change of scenery works for St. Scholastica baseball duo

St. Scholastica shortstop Tyler Duex, a sophomore who transferred from Wisconsin-Superior, leads the Saints with a .465 batting average, 47 hits, 14 doubles, 20 walks, a .567 on-base percentage and 39 RBIs. As of earlier this week, he ranked second in NCAA Division III in on-base percentage and third in batting average. Photo courtesy St. Scholastica Athletics 1 / 3
Trevor Burnsdorf2 / 3
Tyler Duex3 / 3

Trevor Bernsdorf had his heart set on attending Doane College in Crete, Neb., but St. Scholastica baseball coach Corey Kemp told the former Floodwood High School standout he would always be welcomed back in the Northland if he ever changed his mind.

That came a lot sooner than anyone could have imagined.

Bernsdorf dropped out at Doane and enrolled at St. Scholastica for fall semester, and now just six months later, he and another newcomer, Tyler Duex, lead the top-seeded Saints into the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament Thursday through Saturday at Bulldog Park on the Minnesota Duluth campus. St. Scholastica (27-10), which enters tournament play on a 17-game winning streak, opens against No. 4 seed Bethany Lutheran College (13-20) at 3 p.m.

“It was a whirlwind. I can’t even tell you the exact day I came here because everything happened so fast,” Bernsdorf said of last fall. “I just kept working hard and always believed I could do well. I just had to stay confident.”

Duex, a sophomore shortstop who transferred to St. Scholastica after Wisconsin-Superior went through a coaching change last June, leads the Saints with a .465 batting average, 47 hits, 14 doubles, 20 walks, a .567 on-base percentage and 39 RBIs. As of earlier this week, he ranked second in NCAA Division III in on-base percentage and third in batting average.

Bernsdorf, meanwhile, is second on the team with a .402 batting average and 29 RBIs. He has played most of the infield positions this spring and is tied for third with 27 runs.

St. Scholastica graduated 15 seniors from last year’s 29-11 team and  has only four seniors this season. But the Saints have consistently shown an ability to reload thanks to an influx of younger players like Duex and Bernsdorf.

The Saints have used six or seven freshmen in most games this season.

“We never think we’re a year away,” Kemp said. “You never know what’s going to happen with injuries and how players develop. You play with what you have each season, and you always play your best guys, regardless of class. We expect the guys we put into the lineup to perform, and they have. What’s scary is how good those younger guys can be if they keep working at it.”

Kemp didn’t always think so highly of Duex’s baseball ability. Duex, a native of Bloomer, Wis., who played at nearby Chippewa Falls, Wis., was a second baseman in high school with a suspect arm. The Saints had him at a summer camp and Kemp told him he would be wasting his time if he tried out with the Saints.

Duex hit .270 as a freshman last year at Wisconsin-Superior.

“People often talk, ‘How do you get all these kids who are great kids and great players?’ And often it is because they realized we were the right fit for them. Trevor and Tyler are perfect examples of that,” Kemp said. “Tyler willed himself to get better. He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. The kid lives in the weight room, and he lives in the batting cage. I called him after he got his release (from UWS) and he said, ‘Maybe as a high school senior I wasn’t good enough, but I’m good enough for you now.’ It was easy for me to take a shot on somebody like that.”

Andy Davis, of Chippewa Falls, struck up a friendship with Duex last summer and encouraged him to transfer to St. Scholastica, which also meshed better academically as Duex is considering a physical therapy major.

“I didn’t like what Coach Kemp said to me, because I did think I was good enough,” Duex said. “But now looking back on it, I wasn’t even close to the player I am today, or even last year. I’m pretty surprised because if you would have told me I’d be hitting about .470 this season, I would have said, ‘No way.’ I fired out of the gate and just kept it going.”

Bernsdorf, meanwhile, was taking classes at Doane when he asked for his release from the NAIA institution. He gave up his athletic scholarship to attend St. Scholastica.

“It just wasn’t the right fit for me, just in terms of location and baseball,” Bernsdorf said. “I knew I had a place back here.”

Bernsdorf enrolled at St. Scholastica on the final day students can enroll, making phone calls the entire way up from Nebraska.

Bernsdorf and his younger brother, Riley, a Floodwood junior, grew up playing on their makeshift field of dreams across from their home in Meadowlands.

“These guys on this team have become like brothers to me, too, so having that kind of support makes the transition to college that much easier,” Bernsdorf said. “All I know is I’m happy to be a Saint. I’m with a great group of guys who love each other and work well together. I couldn’t be happier with how things have worked out here.”