PREP BASEBALL: Dragons hoping to claim Red Rock Conference title againWORTHINGTON — The canvas for last year’s Red Rock Conference baseball season was painted blue and gold as a dominant Adrian Dragons team went a perfect 10-0 in conference play.
WORTHINGTON — The canvas for last year’s Red Rock Conference baseball season was painted blue and gold as a dominant Adrian Dragons team went a perfect 10-0 in conference play.
This year the Dragons figure to again to a force in the conference, but Adrian will certainly have a target on its back as the rest of the conference looks to gain ground and challenge for the top spot.
Here’s how the RRC stacks up this season, ordered based on last year’s conference standings:
The Dragons ran away with the conference last season with a 10-0 record (25-3 overall), and have enough players returning that will be set for another successful season this year.
The team will be led by returning seniors Justin Wolf (catcher), Tyler Hornstein (infield, pitcher), Zach Dingmann (infield, pitcher), Dru Strand (outfield), Dustin Polzine (outfield), Andrew Lonneman (outfield) and junior Mitchell Sieve (infield).
With so much of the team’s talent resting with its upperclassmen, Adrian will have to observe throughout the season exactly which of the younger players in the roster will step up and provide big contributions this year.
The team’s main strength is that the players are hard-working and aren’t taking last season’s success for granted. However, the team will be looking to overcome a lack of experience with its current lineup.
Murray County Central
The Rebels finished second in the conference with an overall record of 15-7 and made it to the semifinals of the section tournament, but will have to deal with the loss of seven starters from last season.
The team returns three key players in Chris Halbur, Nate Wieneke and Matt Reinsma, but overall, head coach Tarry Boelter has described this season as a rebuilding year.
Boelter will be counting on a roster in the field made up of catcher Trent Carlson, infielders Josh Onken, Austin Christensen, Jordan Anderson, Franke Spartz, Sam Nysetvold and Seth Bass and outfielders Matt Hart, Ryan Erickson, Austin Kluis and Nick Petersen.
Pitchers that will be fighting for a spot in the rotation include seniors Jake Erickson and Austin Scarset, juniors Ryan Erickson and Austin Christensen, sophomore Sam Erickson and freshman Mitchell Reinsma.
Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove
There are no other teams that will be quite as young as the Falcons this year, who will field a roster with no seniors on it.
RRC/W-WG saved its best games last season for when it was playing within the conference (8-12 overall, 6-4 in the conference) and will return six starters from last year’s roster — five juniors and a sophomore.
Juniors Dylan Bunting and Logan Willhite were all-conference selections for the Falcons last season. Bunting was the team’s leading hitter (.386 average) as the team’s third baseman and number two pitcher. Willhite (.324 average last year) will again man second base.
Junior Daniel Maras was honorable mention all-conference last year and will play catcher.
Sophomore Jeff DeCock will be the team’s shortstop. He gained experience in the starting lineup at the end of last year and will look to play solid defense up the middle with Willhite, which head coach Derrick Jenniges will be a key to success for the team.
Junior Jacob Comnick was a letter winner last year and got the team’s first win on the mound this year.
Juniors Bryan Bierl and Taylor Vollmer and sophomores Henry Rogotzke, Andrew Merrick and Brady Bierl will look to fit into bigger roles this year.
Although the roster lacks numbers — with as few as 10 players in the lineup for some varsity games — the team is filled with players who can play multiple positions, with some players having already played up to five positions already this year.
Jenniges describes this team as the fastest he’s ever coached, with the ability to create pressure against other teams with its speed, but said that in order to take advantage of it his team will have to make sure its pitching and defense are solid.
The biggest thing the team will have to overcome is making mental errors during games, with the team looking to improve by gaining valuable experience from learning from its mistakes.
The Wildcats had only a 3-15 overall record last season (all three wins were against conference opponents), but will return a lot of experienced players, with 13 letter winners from last season returning.
Senior Alex Meyer will lead the team as the No. 1 pitcher and leadoff hitter. He was an all-conference player last season, as was junior Luke Henkels, who enters his third season as the team’s starting catcher. Henkels led the team with a .373 average last year and will bat third in the lineup.
Senior Lukas DeWall (honorable mention all-conference last year) will bat second and play second base. He provides good range in the field and batted .357 last season. Senior Sean Haberman will play all of the outfield positions, senior Ben Cunningham will be the team’s No. 2 pitcher and senior Tim Kennedy will return at first base after making just four errors at the position last season.
Juniors Kyle Elder, Riley Place, Jacob Olson, Brady Meyer and Austin Liepold and sophomores Jacob Post, Erik Jass and Justin Jass will be looked upon to fill bigger roles this season.
The Wildcats figure to be good defensively and have a pitching staff with good control (65 walks in 125 innings last year). The team will look for pitchers to pitch to contact and make plays behind them in the field.
SWU will be looking to do a better job of playing small ball this year, having to rely more on doing little things to score runs with an offense that isn’t characterized by its slugging ability.
In the face of tough competition within the conference the Wolverines finished last season with a 2-8 conference record (5-15 overall), but the team will be bolstered this year with a number of returning players, including most of its pitching.
Despite losing top players Steven Herrig, Trey Hopwood, Cody Adrian, Jared Bargen and Josh Falk, ML/B-O will field a full lineup of returning players.
The team’s top returners include seniors Isaac Hildebrandt (infield, pitcher), Blaine Meyer (infield, pitcher) and Frankie Bologna (outfield) and juniors Beau Herrig (infield, pitcher), Cody Penner (catcher, infield and pitcher), Matt Willaby (catcher, pitcher), Jordan Kirk (infield, outfield), Kaleb Grev (infield, pitcher) and Jacob Karschnik (outfield).
In order to improve from last season, the team will have to shore up both its pitching and its defense. However, despite some holes left to fill, the Wolverines have a good nucleus in place.
If the Flying Dutchmen are going to improve on a 2-11 overall record from last season, the team will have to rely on a nucleus of young talent.
The team lacks numbers at the older grade levels, though will return seniors Dylan Voge, Adam LaFollette and Brady Timmer. Sophomore Blake Jouwstra and junior Devin Jouwstra also return for the team, which will be playing its first season combined with Ellsworth.
Younger players that will have to step up throughout the season to create success for E/E include sophomores Travis Pearson and Derek Claar and freshmen Mitch Leuthold and Brogan Mullenkamp.
The players are approaching the season with a good attitude, eager to learn and build for future success, with many players set to build a strong team core for years to come.
However, this season the Flying Dutchmen are low on numbers and will be young and inexperienced in many positions.