RRC BASEBALL PREVIEW: Red Rock Conference ready to play ballEDGERTON — After playing with the same players for a few years, the first day of varsity practice in any sport generally is not about the team getting a feel for one another.
EDGERTON — After playing with the same players for a few years, the first day of varsity practice in any sport generally is not about the team getting a feel for one another.
For Edgerton and Southwest Christian, that’s exactly what the first day of baseball practice was, as the Flying Dutchmen and the Eagles have paired up this season for the first time.
“This will definitely make an immediate impact on our program,” E/SWC coach Ron Zwart said. “(SWC) basketball standouts Damon Vander Maten, Andrew Top, Dominic Nibbelink, Gabe Vanderveen and Nathan Pfiefle are all very athletic and all will likely be in the starting lineup on opening day.”
As for any negative effects to the pairing, Zwart is yet to find any.
“We have not experienced any growing pains or a transition period,” Zwart said. “Both have been nonexistent.
“The players and coaches have meshed from day one. We have hit the ground running and have received nothing but support from the community.”
Coming off a 2-15 campaign and a first-round loss to Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the playoffs, the Flying Dutchmen will mix the new Eagles with returning starters Devin and Blake Jouwstra, Travis Pierson and D.C. Claar.
Devin (.314 batting average last season) will be called on to pitch with his brother, Blake (.426 batting average last season), either catching or in the middle of the infield.
“We will be looking to Devin and Blake to step up and provide leadership for our ball club,” Zwart said.
If the Eagles are anything on the diamond like they were on the basketball court this season, E/SWC could have a huge turnaround.
“The changes brought about by the pairing will give us more run-scoring potential up and down the lineup, more team speed and some depth at the pitching position,” Zwart said.
E/SWC will open up the season versus the same team which ended its season last season in R-T-R April 9.
RRC co-champs Adrian return 7 lettermen
Adrian finished as co-champs in the Red Rock with a 7-3 conference record and an 11-9 overall record, including going 1-1 in the playoffs.
The Dragons lost six lettermen, including all-stater Justin Wolf along with Dru Strand, Tyler Hornstein, Zach Dingmann, Andrew Lonneman and Dustin Polzine, all of whom were all-conference.
The Dragons do return seven lettermen in Mitchell Sieve, Dalton Jeffers, Anthony Tiesler, Jake Tiede, Tony Reker, Jake Diekmann and Nate Loosbrock to mix with returning prospects Ben Mulder and Adam Garms.
“We are young and we hope to be ready for sections by year end,” 18-year Adrian skipper Kevin Nowotny said. “Our strength should be our pitching, as we have a deep staff.”
Adrian will take on Luverne Tuesday to open up the season.
MCC looking for deep pitching staff to win conference outright
Murray County Central shared the Red Rock Conference title with Adrian last season, going 7-3 in conference and 12-9 overall. It is not something the Rebels want to share again.
“We were kind of disappointed because we just needed to beat SWU to have the championship, but we didn’t,” MCC coach Tarry Boelter said. “You want to win it outright.”
The Rebels return Sam Erickson, Ryan Erickson and Austin Christensen along with a not-so-new addition of Chris Halbur to the pitching rotation.
Halbur pitched well as a freshman, but required surgery on his arm and has played the last two seasons, but not pitched. In his senior season, Halbur is ready to head back to the rotation.
“Chris is an exceptional athlete, so if he can get his control back, he should be fine,” Boelter said. “His velocity is there and his arm is looking good.”
Catcher Trent Carlson will be the anchor of the pitching staff behind the plate and the Rebels feel comfortable up the middle with Nate Wieneke at shortstop and Austin Kluis in center field.
“We feel we have a lot of returners back and we should be right in the hunt,” Boelter said. “We’re really strong up the middle and we have good pitching. If anything, we need to improve on our hitting.
“I feel like we can beat anybody on any given day.”
MCC will take on Adrian April 10 to open the season.
SWU proved last season it can compete with the best
Southwestern United was the only team in the Red Rock Conference to defeat both Adrian and Murray County Central last season. The Wildcats fell in the first round to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 10-7 in the first round of the playoffs. T-M-B went on to finish third in the state.
SWU feels there is no reason why the Wildcats can’t compete for a conference crown this season.
“We hope to compete in the always tough Red Rock Conference and we would like to advance to the double elimination portion of the section tournament,” SWU coach Tim Owen said.
SWU lost all-section pitcher and outfielder Alex Meyer and two-time all-conference honorable mention second baseman Lukas DeWall to graduation, but return 3-year starter Luke Henkels, all-conference first baseman Austin Liepold (.352 batting average and two errors in 91 attempts last season), ace Riley Place, Jacob Olson, Jacob Post (hit .314 and was 1-1 with a 4.36 ERA last season, earning all-conference honors) and starting catcher Erik Jass.
“We will work in the early season to try and find the right combinations in the field and at the plate and hopefully by the end of the season, we can have it all figured out,” Owen said. “We should be solid defensively, but will need to find ways to score runs.”
SWU’s opener is Tuesday versus Worthington.
ML/B-O brings veteran team to the RRC battle
Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin lost just two seniors from a squad that finished 8-10 overall and fourth in conference.
Two-time all-conference pitcher Beau Herrig returns to be the ace of a veteran staff and the power behind the Wolverines offense.
All-conference leadoff man Kaleb Greve also returns to the Wolverines along with all-conference honorable mention Cody Penner. Pitcher Blake Spinks and catcher Matt Willaby also return.
Basically, the entire Wolverines team returns this season with the big missing piece being all-conference outfielder Isaac Hildebrandt, who graduated.
“We have our entire pitching staff returning,” ML/B-O coach Shawn Naas said. “We have all seniors and sophomores and sophomore Carter Kirk has pitched and been a mainstay at third for us.
“Basically we have a couple spots in the outfield that are open, but other than that our lineup is intact from last year.”
Not only does this senior group have experience, but it has experience winning.
“The senior group has proven in football and basketball and with Spinks and Willaby in wrestling that they have learned how to win,” Naas said. “They’ve had a great deal of success and they want to end on a high note with a run in the section tournament.”
ML/B-O will play Edgerton/SWC April 10 to start the season.
RRC/W-WG a strike zone away from competing
Last season, Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove had six players with batting averages above .300, hit .316 as a team, while stealing 78 bases in 84 attempts. Problem for the Falcons was the team gave up 9.5 runs per game, leading to a 6-14 overall record last season.
“If you go into games and walk five guys and make five errors, you will probably lose,” RRC/W-WG coach Derrick Jenniges said. “Those are the things we have to improve on.”
RRC/W-WG did not graduate any seniors from the team last season, returning two five-year lettermen in all-conference award winner Dylan Bunting (.376 batting average last season) and all-conference honorable mention Taylor Vollmer.
Daniel Maras returns after hitting .377 and stealing 20 bases last season to lead off for the Falcons.
Jacob Comnick, who led the team in innings pitched, wins and extra-base hits, while hitting .378, returns along with two-time all-conference winner Logan Willhite.
There is veteran leadership everywhere on the field with two-year starter at shortstop in Jeff DeCock, senior pitcher Bryan Bierl, power-hitting lefty Henry Rogotzke and center-fielder Andrew Merrick, who stole 17 bases a season ago.
“We got a lot of bodies and a lot of experience,” Jenniges said. “The two weeks of the season are going to tell us what we’re in store for in terms of getting momentum and confidence.
“We had high expectations last year and we got off to a rough start. “We play six games in the next two weeks and they are going to tell us what we’re dealing with. We are going to be able to score some runs, but we need to find guys that are going to consistently throw strikes.”
RRC/W-WG open up the season today at Minneota.
Daily Globe Sports Editor Chris Murphy can be reached at 376-7328.