2012 Baseball preview: Cardinals, Huskies should be in the mix

Andover
Coach: Don Gawreluk
Outlook: Andover posted a 13-11 record and lost to eventual section champion Forest Lake in the section’s final four tournament.

Senior infielder Brady Johnson will provide some stability up the middle of the infield. File photo

Senior infielder Brady Johnson will provide some stability up the middle of the infield. File photo

This should be the Huskies best chance to break into the state tournament for the first time in program history.
Look for the Huskies to continue to be among the best in the Northwest Suburban Conference and section after returning nine starters and three NCAA Division 1 signees, including twin brothers Brent (left-handed pitcher) and Nate Strong (right-handed pitcher and catcher) who will play baseball at Bradley along with Augustana-recruit Patrick O’Donnell, who will roam centerfield this spring.

Andover returns its entire infield with Brady and Davis Johnson up the middle at shortstop and second base, respectively, with corner infielders Nick Weeks at third base and first baseman Kyle Gausman. Pitcher Zack Miller and Tyler Evans will split time between catcher and outfield. Look for Ryan Johnson, Kal Garmker, Wade Satzinger and Roman Carroll to also contribute.

“Many of our starters played regularly since their sophomore days,” Gawreluk said. “They know what it takes to excel in big games and that experience will benefit them greatly.”

He believes the NWSC is the deepest in the state with Armstrong, Coon Rapids, Maple Grove, Champlin Park and Blaine as a dark horse with pitching depth.

Anoka
Coach: Kevin Bross
Outlook: Anoka will look to climb out of the bottom of the Northwest Suburban Conference after a 3-17 overall record last spring through more consistent play.

“Last year we had moments of greatness, however, we made key mistakes when it counted the most,” Bross said, who is preparing to guide the Tornadoes for the third season as head coach and sixth season in the program. “We will be focusing on playing fundamentally sound baseball. Over the last couple of years we have also had some injuries to key players. Hopefully we can stay healthy and see some solid contributions from a pretty good group of juniors.”

Senior Kevin Persuitti will be the top starting pitcher and will also see time at first base and in the outfield. Senior Lance Lebaron will be a key outfielder and designated hitter again this spring and senior Billy Herdzina played at third base last season and was a key contributor at the plate.

Blaine
Coach: Eric Feigum
Outlook:Blaine is coming off an 8-14 record and lost to Maple Grove in the second round of sections, but has a very experienced group with up to 15 seniors vying for varsity spots.

Blaine senior Tanner Schumacher

“Everyone will have a job to do,” Feigum said. “If we make the simple plays and throw strikes, we can be very competitive.”
Feigum doesn’t come in as an entirely unknown coach as he’s coached many Bengals since their freshman season.
“It should be a lot of fun to watch these guys compete at the highest level now,” he said. “We have played so many games together it will be an awesome experience to see these guys all the way through and know what they are capable of doing.”

Captains include Nick Plankers and Steven Schneider. Many players after Blaine graduated only three varsity players. North Dakota State University-recruit Tanner Schumacher is back with Jace Otto, Alek Minkel, Nick Malvin and Cole Mortenson.

Coon Rapids
Coach: Jerry Coe
Outlook:The Cardinals return a lot of their talent from the last couple of seasons and should compete for Northwest Suburban Conference and Section 5AAA titles.

Coon Rapids senior Casey Watermann

Coon Rapids senior Casey Watermann

Coon Rapids lost twice in the section final to Maple Grove, but has a very strong group of upperclassmen which includes University of Florida-prospect Logan Shore, who will be one of the top pitchers in the metro and will see time at shortstop. Coon Rapids returns catchers in senior Jake Sederstrom (who will also see time at third base) and junior Anthony Mrosla along with returning senior lettermen Casey Waterman (second and third baseman), Bobby Smith (shortstop and outfield), Alex Aase (outfield and pitcher), Cody Hermann (pitcher), Alex Wojciechowski (pitcher and first baseman) and Anthony Podkopacz (outfielder). Junior returning lettermen include Grant Farley (pitcher and outfielder) along with Mrolsa and Shore.

Coe expects senior second baseman Luke Peterson to be a key contributor along with junior pitchers Jake Bruner and Kyle Wold.

The Cardinals should have strong starting pitching which will be key once the compact schedule progresses into sections when more arms will be needed.

“Almost all teams have at least one ace pitcher that could beat anyone else in the conference. It will be a battle every game. No laughers this year. It seems that teams just get better and better every year,” said Coe, who enters his 20th season with the Cardinals (along with assistant coach Don Bright).

Coon Rapids looks to return to state for the second time in three seasons after placing third in 2010. The team has made four state appearances, coming away with some hardware each season. Coon Rapids was state champion in both 1993 and 2008 and placed second in 1997.

Spring Lake Park
Coach: Josh Mason
Outlook: The Panthers have a new head coach as Josh Mason, who served on Ryan Holmgren’s staff for the last five seasons and was promoted after Holmgren moved on to take the same position in Elk River.

Mason has already put the program’s philosophy of building from the ground-up and doing it right from the start as the Panthers try to put a 3-17 record in 2011 behind them.

That idea became more than a team motto as they spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend installing a team shed at the ballpark.

The dark blue building with white trim stands 12 feet tall at the walls and 16 feet at the peak which houses the Panthers baseball equipment and other field equipment and continues to improve the baseball field.

“It really is a massive structure,” Mason said. “There is nothing little about this thing.”

Since the Panthers don’t have an active baseball booster club, Mason, his staff and parents came together with anonymous donations plus the support from Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet, Home Depot, Behr Paint, R. Miller Construction and lots of sweat equity from players, parents and coaches to complete the project in two days. They also had lunch donated from Blue Dixie Barbeque.

As for the team, look for senior captain Jake Matthys to guide the team from the pitcher’s mound and at the plate. The Kansas State University-recruit has been busy this winter playing baseball with the Minnesota Blizzard in addition to captaining the Panthers hockey team. Other returning seniors include Steve Erlandson, Ben Johnson, Taylor Price and Spencer Stachowski.

Mason was looking for a veteran group this spring, but only five juniors have returned after 13 were part of the program in 2011. Spring Lake Park will once again be a young team looking toward the future. Returning junior Ryan Flink will be a key infielder at third or shortstop, while Caleb Alexson will fill a couple of different roles on the team as a middle infielder, pitcher or back-up catcher. “We needed someone to catch and he stepped up and said he would do it if we needed it,” Mason said. “It’s just a testament to Caleb to be willing to go anywhere to help the team.”

As for predictions about the success of the team, Mason said with so many untested players, “it will be interesting to see how the team develops. The youth will be a strength of this team with guys wanting to push each other. I’ve told them it doesn’t matter if your in ninth grade or 12th grade, we’re going to take the best team.”

As for the Panthers bats, look for Matthys to be the go-to batter with Flink protecting him in the batting order and Price leading off as a strong senior outfielder to set the tone.

St. Francis
Coach: Brian Julson
Outlook: St. Francis is coming off a 16-9 record and 8-6 in the North Suburban Conference before losing to eventual Section 7AAA champion Forest Lake, six outs from a return trip to state.

St. Francis senior Andy Juhlkowski

St. Francis senior Andy Juhlkowski

This season’s team motto is, “Playing our way to a championship, one pitch at a time.”
The team returns four key seniors in pitcher Nick Wilson, shortstop Andy Julkowski, outfielder Jake Schake and catcher Warren Bauman along with sophomore pitcher Lucas Niemeyer, who went 6-0 as a freshman pitcher.
Julkowski is in line to set many Saints career records this spring.

Julson said the key to success is pitching and strong defense up the middle, “and these players will play a big role in the 2012 season.”

The Saints open the season at home against St. Louis Park April 7. First pitch is set for 4:15 p.m.

Legacy Christian Academy
Coach: Phil Almeroth
Outlook:After graduating several key contributors last season coach Phil Almeroth is waiting to see who will emerge from the junior varsity level and if any transfers will be able to contribute immediately.

Legacy senior Josh Johnson

The team has one returning pitcher with varsity experience in senior Ryan Kopca who will also be the team’s top hitter heading into the season. He will also see time at shortstop and combine with second baseman Ethan Bruneau to stabilize the middle infield. Returning senior center fielder Josh Johsnon will once again bat in the lead-off spot as the Lions will try to use his speed to generate some runs.

Almeroth said Johnson’s speed in the outfield combined with a strong arm should help the young staff feel comfortable challenging batters. Another starter from last season, senior right fielder Ben Freeby will also help create some stability at the varsity level which has 31 players (eight more than 2011) coming out of the team this season.

The Lions have established a cooperative agreement with Calvin Christian School in Fridley. Almeroth believes  Legacy will have a couple students join the team in its first-ever co-op agreement.

Legacy finished third in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association (MCAA) Conference last season (7-2), one game behind co-champions West Lutheran and Providence Academy. Providence Academy switched to play in the Tri-Metro Conference this season and also moved up to Class AA, after winning the section last season. Look for a stocked West Lutheran squad to break through the section this season.

Legacy will travel to Andover for its first scrimmage of the season with a 4:30 p.m. start April 2.

PACT Charter School
Coach: Josh Coleman
Outlook: New coach Josh Coleman takes over a PACT team that went 2-15 and was outscored 208-48 and lost in the Section 5A opener to Onamia 20-1. The Panthers will join the MCAA Conference this spring and graduated only three players off last season’s roster.

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