South baseball hopes improved chemistry, fielding translate to wins
Early outside practice has helped Cougars refine game
year ago, snow covered the baseball diamonds across the metro area, leaving baseball programs such Lakeville South scrambling.
While the Cougars experienced a healthy turnover from last season, the early spring thaw has given the Cougars a chance to sprout into better ball players in less time.
“Practice looks a lot better than last year,” senior catcher Hunter Harnisch said. “The team looks a lot more competitive. Our fielding is way better. We have guys who care and who want to win.”
The extra practice time in the field has helped.
“We’re a lot more refined,” senior pitcher Will Lundquist said. “We’re a lot better mechanically. We’re a lot smoother. Last year we were in the gym at this point and we didn’t have a game until a week and a half (after we were scheduled to start).”
Better fielding should help improve a team that gave up seven runs per game in 2011, most in the South Suburban Conference.
“It’s a lot easier to pitch knowing that you don’t have to blow it by everybody,” Lundquist said. “You can relax and let the defense do its part.”
Another reason Harnisch feels the team should be better in 2012 is improved chemistry.
“A lot of guys we’ve played with for 10 years,” Harnisch said “It’s a lot smoother out there.”
The Cougars feel good fielding is going to come into play more often this season with the addition of the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution bats that deaden the trampoline effect.
The idea is to limit injuries, but it also will limit home runs.
“I just as soon as go with wood bats,” Lakeville South head coach Al Iversen said. “The (BBORC) bats are really slow. The ball isn’t going to jump. That’s fine. We’re here for the safety of the athlete.
“It’s going to come down to quality bunting and hit-and-runs. We’ll scratch and claw. I’ve been at this for almost 30 years, and I’ve never been a big-inning guy. Give me one or two here and there and we’ll be fine.”
Last season the Cougars started 4-1, but faded through May with a 10-game losing streak on their way to a 6-15 season. Still, one of the biggest highlights was beating Lakeville North twice during the regular season. The Cougars had never beaten their crosstown rival before.
The Cougars always have had a record below .500. The closest they got was in 2010 with a 10-12 record, so the players would like to continue reversing trends.
“We have a lot of coaches including myself that have been involved with winning programs,” Iversen said. “We looked back at our losses (last year), seven were one- or two-run games. We win by the fifth inning, but then some mojo comes over them or something, and it was like they’ve never been there before. This year we’re saying we’re playing a full seven innings.”
The Cougars hope 2012 is a little more like the first five games of 2011.
“We want to be a force, but our ultimate goal is to make it to state or make it far in sections,” Lundquist said. “We have a lot of returning players, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Lundquist, who was all-conference in 2011 along with all-conference honorable mention catcher Harnisch, will join returning outfielder Garret Delich and first baseman Jacob Miller.
Luke Sather and Mitch Jans also bring varsity experience on the mound and in the field. Other pitchers looking to get in on the action include Erick Cerenka and Luke Benge along with young lefties Shane Marker and Mitchell Mauer.
It adds up to a speedy, defense-minded team. Iversen’s main concern is generating runs.
“That will come,” Iversen said. “We’re just excited to get out there.”
Andy Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sunthisweek.