With several returning varsity pitchers, infielders and outfielders, Panthers pumped to start season
The Lakeville North baseball team has a healthy portion of its lineup back this spring after just five members graduated off a team that finished third in the South Suburban Conference behind the eventual state champion Eastview and the team the spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the state Burnsville.
North was near the top by the end of the season and knocked Burnsville out of the playoffs thanks to a shutout thrown by one of its key returning pitchers, Jordan Jacobson.
Pitching should be a strength for the Panthers with some of the top throwers in the conference back on the mound.
Jacobson will take over the role as ace after throwing nearly 40 innings last year with a 3.00 ERA and 25 strikeouts.
Experienced throwers helping him out on the mound including Sam Petrick (2.55 ERA) and Dalton Lehnen, who showed much potential as a sophomore last year with a 1.21 ERA after 17 1/3 innings.
He was also the team’s leader at the plate with a .417 batting average.
“He was at such an unpredictable level right away,” head coach Tony Market said. “If sophomores playing in this conference bat .200 we’re happy. We’ve had players have breakout years and then next year they pitch you differently, but he knows it. He’s not satisfied. He’s been working hard. He knows if he keeps on that exponential rise, he can be pretty special.”
AJ Sayer, Nick Dorfman and Matt Arnold will also see some time from the bullpen.
The outfield is stacked, returning Brandon Morgan (.286 batting average) and Zach Creighton (.368). Daniel Olson and Sayer are competing for the other spot in the outfield.
The infield is reloading with Erik Rutt (.246) at shortstop, Connor Christenson (.333) at third, and Jake Braun (.299) at second. Newcomer Angelo Altavilla has already made an impression at first base.
“It’s a good balance of returning players and we have a little youth, so the future is bright,” Market said. “We look really good on paper, but you don’t play on paper.”
They’re anxious to see how the pieces fit on the field.
The Panthers haven’t had much time outdoors, except for a few fielding drills on the stadium turf. The team didn’t go anywhere for spring break this year.
“It’s been a long winter for everybody,” Market said.
With games already being cancelled, Market was well aware that once the sun starts to shine with frequency, the games will pile up quickly.
“If we have to push a few games back, we’ll be OK,” he said. “A lot of the guys are playing year round. It’s not like they had to go find their glove. There are a lot of kids who put in a lot of time in the offseason.”
The baseball season has started this way before. The Panthers’ first game in 2010 was on April 12 and the team played 11 games in April.
Friday’s home opener against Eastview has been postponed and it doesn’t look good for Monday’s trip to Bloomington Kennedy either.
The games haven’t been rescheduled yet.
“We only want to reschedule them once,” Market said.
Market said he’s aiming for the season opener on Wednesday when Bloomington Jefferson is scheduled to pay a visit.
“If we have to stack up the games, we’ll be fine,” Market said. “We’ve got the pitching to handle it.”
As always the Panthers would like to be a contender for the South Suburban Conference title this spring. It’s been one of the toughest conferences in the state with the last two state champions Eastview and Burnsville coming from the South Suburban.
With Eagan bringing several players back along with Bloomington Jefferson, Prior Lake and the always competitive Burnsville reloading, Market knows it won’t be easy.