Wildcats return eight starters for 2007 campaign
WORTHINGTON -- Going 10-2 in league play a year ago, the Southwestern United Wildcats captured the Red Rock Conference baseball title on their way to a third-place finish in the Class A state tournament.
Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove went 8-4 to earn the runner-up trophy, while Murray County Central and Edgerton were each 7-5 to tie for third.
Adrian (6-6), Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin (3-9) and Cedar Mountain/Comfrey (1-11) rounded out the conference standings.
CM/C will not compete in the Red Rock Conference this year, so each team will play 10 league contests (two against every other team). Here's a look at each of this season's six contending clubs.
While they do lose two key players from last year's 20-6 team, the Southwestern United Wildcats bring back 15 letterwinners, including eight starters.
Keith Rogers (center field) and Evan Place (catcher) were both four-year players for the Wildcats, and while their offense will be hard to replace, it's their defense that will be even tougher to fill.
Leading the returning group of veterans are seniors Trevor Leopold (shortstop), Alex Leopold (pitcher, first base, outfield), Lon Eichenberger (OF), Josh Olson (second base, catcher) and Bill Blumberg (designated hitter).
Trevor Leopold drove in a team-record 37 runs last year, hit .390 and made just nine errors in 100 chances. Alex Leopold was 5-2 with an ERA of 3.63 and 47 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched.
Eichenberger scored a club-record 37 runs and stole 15 bases a year ago, and Blumberg had 34 RBIs and smacked a trio of home runs, including two at the state tournament.
Junior James Anderson returns as the ace pitcher after having a breakout season (7-1 record, 2.20 ERA, 10 walks in 54 IP) last spring. He will also see time in the outfield.
Sophomores Ben Scheevel (OF, 1B) and Kirk McBreen (3B) each played in 24 games last year and can play a variety of positions, while junior Tyler Timko looks to step in as the team's primary catcher.
"Defense and pitching control will be our keys," Wildcats head coach Tim Owen said. "We may have to work on manufacturing a few more runs this year without two .300 hitters (Place and Rogers) filling the middle of the lineup."
Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove
Returning five experienced seniors, the Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove Falcons will look to remain competitive under head coach Derrick Jenniges.
Seniors Jake Wahl, Tim Furth, Logan Swenson, Dylan Barker and Zach Merrick make up the core group of returning Falcons -- who lost Jake Sell, Chase Bierman, Jake Severson and Alex Scarset to graduation.
Wahl, Furth and Swenson -- who missed all of last year with an injury -- return with experience on the mound. Furth and Swenson will also play the corner infield positions, while Wahl will play right field.
Barker has stolen more than 30 bases the last two seasons and will play second base, while Merrick will play center field.
Juniors Eric Altermatt (C) and Josh Fredrickson (1B, P) each lettered for the Falcons last year, while seniors Brian Theisen and Clint Lingle will be looking to crack the everyday lineup.
Sophomores Kyle Baumann (SS), Justin Knakmuhs (DH, 1B) and Brian Benedict (IF, P) are also expected to make an impact for the Falcons, who have 14 freshmen to provide depth.
Murray County Central
With all but one player returning from last year, including their top two hurlers, the Murray County Central Rebels figure to be right in the mix for a conference title.
Tim Haberman has graduated, but head coach Tarry Boelter welcomes back 11 letterwinners, with senior Derik Johnson and junior Paul Counter leading the list.
Johnson (3B) and Counter (1B) will be the workhorses on the mound and play the corner infield spots, as well.
Seniors Doug Einck (C, OF), Tom Spartz (SS), Brady Johansen (OF) and Jarrod Larson (OF) also return as veterans, as do juniors Spencer Grimmius (1B), Brian Everson (P, 2B) and Ben Clarke (P, IF, OF).
Sophomores Mike Tentinger (P, OF) and Eric Wieneke (P, OF) contributed a year ago, while sophomore Justin Reinsma (P, 2B), and freshmen Kyle DeJong (C, OF), Travis DeLong (P, 2B) and Taylor Streff (P, IF) will look to break in as contributors this season.
Four key players have graduated, leaving the Edgerton Flying Dutchmen fairly young and inexperienced.
Max Zwart, Reed Van Hulzen, Brett Elgersma and Todd Landhuis all received their diplomas last spring, and will no longer be playing for head coach Steve Ondrush.
Seniors Kent Van't Hof (P, IN) and Trey Manitz (OF) are the most experienced returning players for the Flying Dutchmen.
Featuring four infielders who will be playing in their fourth straight year together, the Adrian Dragons (11 returning letterwinners) will look to maintain their level of success.
Seniors Cody Kontz (SS), Will Lutmer (3B) and Brandon Diekmann (1B), along with junior Glen Kruger (2B), will each begin their fourth year in the Dragon infield. The trio of seniors will also see time on the mound as the team's most experienced pitchers.
Seniors Tyler Vaske (C), John Archer (P, IN), Reid Strand (IN, DH) and Ben Salter (OF, DH) also return for the Dragons, giving Adrian good leadership.
Sophomore Jordan Kontz (P, IF) and freshman Adam Diekmann (P, OF) saw a lot of time a year ago, and lead a young crop of prospects ready to provide depth for the Dragons.
"We lost just two seniors off of last year's squad which won 15 games," Dragons head coach Kevin Nowotny said. "If we can improve our work ethic and team philosophy, this team could be a good one."
After going 3-9 in the conference a year ago, the Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin Wolverines will be looking to work their way back up and finish in the upper half of the league standings.
Head coach Shawn Naas will have to find replacements for Danny Snyder, Lee Fast, Cody Fast, Derek Radtke and Louis Grosklags -- who all graduated last spring.
Juniors Kyle Schroeder (IF, P), Matt Strom (C), Barrett Herrig (OF, P) and Evan Anderson (1B, P) all played a lot for the Wolverines last year and will be counted on once again.
Seniors Nathan Haseman (OF, P), Zac Clarke (1B), Nathan Mathistad (OF), Shane Nelson (OF), Scott Pankratz (OF) and Bill Grefe (OF) join junior Austin Hopwood (IF) with some experience. They will be competing for the remaining starting spots.