Prepare baseball teams in hopes of making big strides | local sports

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Prep baseball season is back and local teams are excited to start a new season.

There’s plenty of returning talent on Mankato’s three teams, and each is hoping to make some noise come playoff time.

Here is an overview of each team.

West Mankato

While the high-powered Scarlets have graduated a handful of talented seniors, head coach Sam Stier enters his second season with a host of talent returning from last year’s 21-3 club that won the Premier League title. Big Nine Conference and finished second in Section 2AAA. .

Third baseman/senior pitcher Louis Magers is coming off a season where he hit .388 with a .508 on-base percentage while scoring 21 runs and driving 24 runs. Senior outfielder/pitcher Zander Dittbenner had a .373 batting average with 25 runs, 12 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Senior outfielder Ryan Haley drove in .298 while totaling 20 runs, 18 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.

“The best thing about last year was implementing aggressive base running,” Stier said. “We have to be smarter in all phases of the game. I can’t thank the seniors enough for how ready they were to go straight away. They didn’t give us much leeway to give the juniors the playing time we expected.

“This year’s team also knows how to play the game. We have to give them freedom in certain situations. I learned a lot during the sectional playoffs and you can give Marshall credit for that. Our entire pitching team is back, so this experience is going to be very valuable to us. We didn’t allow more than five runs in a game last year, so we’re very excited about our pitching team.

Big Nine senior pitcher of the year Tanner Shumski went 8-1 a year ago with a 1.48 ERA while striking out 50 batters in 52 innings pitched. Dittbenner whipped up 50 in 36 innings, posting a 5-1 record with a 1.15 ERA. Magers and senior Riley Bersaw were 3-1 and 3-0 respectively, with Magers posting a 3.48 ERA and Bersaw 2.54. Senior receiver Luke Johnson will also see time after not giving up an earned run in 11 innings.

“All of these guys have been putting in the extra work, so we have to put them in a position to be successful,” Stier said. “They’re a talented group, so we can’t wait to get started.”

Stier said four other players – senior first baseman/DH Braeden Smook, junior shortstop Zach Benson, senior second baseman Avery Stock and second-year utility man Wilson Magers – should also see lots of action.

West hosts Rochester Century on Tuesday at ISG Field.

Eastern Mankato

East will rely on nine seniors to hopefully build on last year’s 13-10 record. Four of them – Hunter Milow, Carson Graves, Mathew Werk and Jacob Eggert – will share most of the work on the mound.

Werk is a solid offensive threat who hit .309 last season with a .438 on-base percentage while scoring 17 runs and collecting 12 RBIs. Eggert hit .300 with nine runs and seven RBIs while outfielder Gus Gartzke comes back after hitting .291 with 10 runs and 11 RBIs. Kyle Bridger (.279, six RBIs) is back behind the plate.

“I think we’ll have another good year,” Cougars coach Micah Degner said. “We lost a few pieces, but we have good juniors and seniors who can replace them. We are going to be a team that throws well and plays well in defense. I think our bats are going to be the wild card, but if we play to our potential we could be very tough.

“It’s a good group that’s been here since I started and they work hard. There’s a lot of competition, so they’re going to push each other to reach their full potential. We have the guy who can produce, we have to just work on our consistency offensively because hopefully we can throw shots and play good defence.

Werk was 1-1 with a 3.23 ERA last season, while Milow went 1-2 with a 2.58 ERA and Graves was 1-1 with a 0.74 ERA. Degner also said a trio of seniors — second baseman Alex Mitzel, pitcher Keiryn Flanagan and first baseman Landon Metcalfe — will also be counted.

Mankato Loyola

It’s going to be an interesting spring for Crusaders coach Jeff Reese as he looks to a group of youngsters to plug a host of holes left vacant a year ago. Senior left fielder Jake Eichers will take the lead after finishing a season where he hit .281 with 19 runs and 10 RBIs.

“We don’t have a lot of experience with Jake being our only senior,” Reese said. “We will be young and inexperienced, so the big question mark is probably our hitting. We were pretty good from one to nine last year, but after our first five or six, it’s going to be a question mark. You can win a lot of ballgames with good throwing and good defense, that’s what we’re after.

“Hopefully we can stop the opponents from scoring and then score some points. There are always question marks and I have always believed that if you have four or five quality players you never rebuild. This year will be a challenge to put it all together, but it will be fun.

Junior utility player Mason Stoffel had a stellar season where he shot .508 while scoring 20 points and driving 20 more. Junior first baseman Lawson Godfrey will also pack a punch after hitting .448 with 26 runs and 27 RBI a year ago. He also hit eight doubles and three homers. Junior utility Jake Sizer hit .347 last season with 20 runs and 25 RBIs.

A pair of sophomores – outfielder Jaxson Libby and receiver Christian Theuninck – will also be counted. Stoffel, Godfrey, Sizer and Libby are the top pitchers for the Crusaders, who open their season Monday at ISG Field against Blooming Prairie.

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