Baseball: First pitch for new-look Trojans slated for Tuesday, weather permitting
WORTHINGTON — Baseballs slapping glove leather in a cavernous gymnasium sounds odd during the last days of March.
But this is Minnesota, and after a cold winter spring doesn’t necessarily adhere to the calendar’s announcement that the season has actually arrived. A little time in the gym, a little time outdoors hitting fly balls to outfielders wrapped up in warm clothing, whipping the ball around an infield while a cold wind blows — this is the beginning of high school baseball season in the North Country.
The Worthington Trojans are almost ready to play their first real game of the 2014 baseball season — barring a weather interruption, of course. They are to host Southwestern United on Tuesday, and when (if?) it happens they’ll begin to learn just how competitive they might be.
Until then, it’s difficult to say. This year’s team contains only two seniors. There are many hopeful juniors on the squad, however, and with 32 players on the roster head coach Stacy Sauerbrei pronounces himself satisfied. “Historically, we’ve been a strong hitting team. And I’d like to think we’d continue with that. We’ve also had a lot of depth in the pitching staff. A lot of that this year is untested at the varsity level,” Sauerbrei said just a few days ago during practice.
This spring, WHS will need to replace two All-Southwest Conference performers, Blake Rogers (.455 batting average, three home runs, .600 on base percentage) and Deron Soderholm (.328 batting average and a team-high 11 RBI), and honorable mention Tyler Hatterman (.283 batting average). Rogers may be the hardest to replace, for his outstanding bat and for his skills as a catcher. But the way Sauerbrei sees it, every season ushers in a whole new set of opportunities.
“Graduating good seniors is an indication of a good program. We’re definitely going to miss those guys,” said the coach, adding, “We have a lot of young and enthusiastic ninth and tenth-graders who just can’t wait to move up the ladder. We’ve got 32 kids out. It’s about what I was hoping for, a little more than I expected.”
The senior lettermen are catcher-leftfielder-third baseman Alex Purdy and pitcher-catcher-utility man Ryan Lee. Purdy is a solid left-handed hitter who will be called upon to drive in runs this spring. Lee comes off a fine junior season where he posted a 2-2 pitching record with a 3.56 earned run average in 19 and two-third innings, hit for a .323 average and showed himself to be a good No. 2 catcher. A right-handed power pitcher, he will not lack for innings this season.
He also enters the season with personal goals. “I’d like to improve from last year, pitching-wise, to be more accurate,” he said.
Last year, the team was senior-heavy. With those players now graduated, many positions will be filled by newcomers, and many of those players will come from the junior class. They include pitcher-shortstop Roque Soto, pitcher-first baseman Trevor Wietzema, catcher-pitcher-third baseman Carson Hagen, middle infielder Adrian Manzo, outfielder Logan Thuringer, infielder Joe Pavelko and outfielder Blake Fauske.
Pavelko batted .355 last season and drove in eight runs.
Soto and Hagen are likely to see action on the mound. Soto is described by his coach as a control pitcher who changes speeds well. Hagen is more of a power pitcher.
Sauerbrei seems to like the mixture of experience and inexperience that make up his 2014 Trojans. Some of the players are only in their second baseball seasons, he said, and others have been in the program for many years. Sauerbrei’s job is to test them early and discover who his mainstays will be once the season gets under way in earnest.
Last year, two Southwest Conference teams — Luverne and Windom Area — advanced all the way to the state tournament. In glancing ahead to the upcoming conference schedule, Sauerbrei tipped his hat in admiration for the veteran coaches on those teams, Mike Wenninger for Luverne and Brad Schlomann for Windom Area — and said he looked forward to locking horns with the best southwest Minnesota has to offer.
Lee, whose arm could go a long way in deciding the pecking order for 2014, sounded an optimistic tone himself. “We should do pretty good,” he said. “We lost a lot, but I think we’ve got some good replacements.”