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Minnesota West baseball: Bluejays get valuable early-season experience

WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West baseball team was in Florida during Spring Break last week, but the Bluejay players weren't there to lie around on the beach.

WORTHINGTON - The Minnesota West baseball team was in Florida during Spring Break last week, but the Bluejay players weren’t there to lie around on the beach.
The Jays were able to get into game action a little bit earlier than normal this year, playing nine games in Florida. They finished the week with a record of 1-8, but head coach TD Hostikka said that doesn’t necessarily mean his team struggled. West was up against some top-notch competition from throughout the country. It lost a 2-1 nailbiter to defending NJCAA Division III World Series champion Tyler (Texas) and dropped its final game of the week in 10 innings.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last year,” Hostikka said. “We got a win before April and we saw some really good things. We saw some things we need to work on, too, but that’s why it’s nice to play early games like that.”
Team speed was near the top of Hostikka’s list of what his team did well during its early road trip. He also said there were “three or four” guys on the team who hit the ball really well. All of them finished the week with a batting average above .400. The Jays also scored at least four runs in each of their nine games.
Defensively, he said there were only five or six innings out of all nine games that he’d like to have back. During those frames, he said the pitchers lost composure and struggled to throw strikes. In one game - which West lost 12-8 - he said seven of the 12 runners who scored reached on a walk or hit batsman.
In all, his team will be running a 12-man pitching staff this season. Eleven of those hurlers saw time on the hill in Florida.
“They know what they have to do,” he said. “It boils down to throwing strikes. We just need to get the ball over the plate because I feel like our defense is good enough to help us stay in most games as long as our pitchers aren’t letting a bunch of guys on.”
The 2015 Bluejays feature 14 newcomers and six players who are back from last season. Through the early weeks of the season, Hostikka said the group has been working to find out what each player’s niche on the team is going to be. As they put in the hard work during the offseason in the Bluejays’ new indoor practice facility at MC Fitness, he felt the newcomers are doing a good job making the difficult leap from high school to college ball.
Like most teams, however, West will be looking to its veteran players for leadership.
“They do get leaned on and they need to step up and be leaders,” Hostikka said. “They need to take this opportunity.”
Navigating an always difficult MCAC Southern Division will be no easy task. St. Cloud Tech is coming off of a national tournament appearance and brings almost everybody back. Rochester Community and Technical College and Riverland are both down a bit in numbers this year, but each still figures to be a formidable once division competition begins for the Jays on April 12.
Hostikka said the building process within the program is still ongoing. But, he helped bring in a strong recruiting class this year and plans to have another good one for 2016. So far, he has verbal commitments from 15 kids for  next season, including two from the Dominican Republic, one from Peru and five from Florida.

“We want to build our roster up to 27-30 guys and really look to compete,” Hostikka said.
As for this season, the Bluejays open up their home schedule on March 25 against Buena Vista’s junior varsity. It’s the first date in a three-game homestand that wraps up on the 28th and 29th against with back-to-back games against Rainy River.

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