With eight returning starters the expectations are high for the Redwood Valley baseball team heading into the 2012 campaign.
The Cardinals – who return 14 letter-winners from a year ago – have to replace All-SWC catcher/pitcher Trevor Sandgren but otherwise return much of the core from a team that finished 11-9 overall and 1-1 in postseason play.
“The biggest question mark for us will be at catcher,” Coach Josh Junker said. “Trevor did a great job the past two seasons with his ability to handle the pitching staff. If we can lock that position down we'll be in great shape.”
Unfortunately the Cardinals have to play most of the season without All-SWC standout Logan Swann who is recovering from a back injury that puts him out until early June.
Swann had a huge sophomore season leading the Cardinals in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.508), on-base percentage (.605), slugging percentage (.738) and hits (31). He also had four triples, six doubles, 19 RBI and drew 12 walks. As a pitcher he had a 4.20 ERA with a team-high 17 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 23 1/3 innings of work.
“It's really unfortunate that he’s going to have to miss so much time,” Junker said. “He’s done a great job of preparing himself, and he loves the game. His loss will be felt, but if everything goes well, we'll have him back for the Section tournament.
“If not, he should be ready for a great Legion season.”
Beau Stough is one of eight seniors who is going to be looked upon to lead the way. Stough – an honorable mention All-SWC performer last season – batted .367 one year ago with a .517 slugging percentage, .441 on-base percentage and had 22 hits, three doubles, two HRs and 19 RBI. As a pitcher he racked up a 4.07 ERA with 12 strikeouts and 19 walks. He will see time at all of the infield positions and is going to be asked to eat up innings on the mound.
Senior Colin Bailey is playing first base and DH. One year ago he was batting .428 with a .500 slugging percentage before suffering a knee-cap injury that sidelined him for the season. Bailey is a solid defensive first basemen who is going to provide speed on the base paths.
Senior Jeremy Hester is a versatile player who will see time at different spots in the infield while getting a lot of action on the mound. One year ago he batted .281 with 16 hits and 10 RBI and had a team-leading 2.68 ERA with 11 strikeout's and 18 walks.
Senior Devon Sandgren is going to see action behind the plate along with junior Braydin Kvistero. Sandgren batted .235 a year ago with 12 hits and nine RBI as a DH and outfielder.
Junker expects big things out of senior Chris Verdoes who is most likely going to open the season in the outfield but can play second base as well.
Verdoes batted .306 a year ago with 15 hits, 11 runs scored and five RBI and saw his game improve tremendously over the summer. He’ll also be asked to eat up innings on the hill.
Senior Mike Busack is another solid overall athlete who can pitch, play outfield and also handle first base duties. Senior Dane Olsen had eight hits and two RBI one year ago and is going to see time in centerfield, and senior Mitch Serbus is a newcomer who can help provide depth as a left-handed pinch hitter.
The Cardinals have a nice junior class led by Austin Kretsch who is yet another versatile athlete who is moving into the outfield and play shortstop for Swann. One year ago he batted .267 with 20 runs scored and 17 hits. He also pitched 26 2/3 innings allowing 16 earned runs, striking out 20 and walking 20. He is going to be asked to step up in an even greater capacity this season and has the ability to be an All-SWC level player. Jordan Ford is an outfielder who can run well. A year ago he batted .318 with seven hits and three RBI in eight games.
Jordan Lund (IF/P), Steve Runkel (OF), Tyler Kohout (OF/P), Jordan Houle (3B), Dion Sgro-Ahrens (OF), Shawn Edwards (OF) and Elias O’Keefe (OF) are all players who will help round out a relatively deep roster.
The Cardinals also have a talented B-squad roster of sophomores that include: Mitchell Klinkner, Jordan Mann, Jordan Opdahl, Logan Zaske, Caleb Jensen and freshmen Zach Ward, Brandon Senkyr, Will Buffie, Chris Diekmann, Caleb Krause, Jon Krinke, Zach Siegfried and Cody Anderson.
One change this season is the new standards set in place by the NFHS for aluminum bats. The Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) is the new performance standard for bats. According to Junker, the new standard was put into place to increase the safety of the bats and take away from the "trampoline effect" of bats.
The bats were instituted last year at the NCAA/NAIA level.
In general, the bats perform more like wood bats which should lower the offensive numbers normally seen at the high school level.
“Games will be quicker and a premium will be placed on pitching, defense and speed,” Junker said. “Teams won’t be able to wait around for a big offensive inning, instead they’ll have to work on manufacturing runs.”
The Cardinals face another tough SWC schedule (a year ago they finished 4-8). They host Luverne Saturday and Marshall April 19.