Blaze, Panthers, Lightning are returning co-champs
The term “pitching-rich” applies to South Suburban Conference baseball.
According to coaches in the conference, almost every team has at least one top-flight pitcher, if not several. Successfully navigating the conference schedule could depend on scratching out a few runs – and some victories – against those pitchers.
With the conference schedule starting Monday, April 10, here’s a look at the eight Dakota County teams in the South Suburban:
Coach: Jeremy Hendrickson.
Last season: 10-14 overall, 8-10 in South Suburban, 2-2 in Class 4A, Section 3 playoffs.
First game: vs. Farmington at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: There’s talent here, particularly in all-conference returnees Zach Parks (shortstop/pitcher) and Justin Firpo (infielder/pitcher). Also returning is Matt Arens, another Eagle who can pitch. After a 1-6 start last season, the Eagles became tougher to score against as the season progressed. They’ll look for a faster start in 2017.
Coach: Mick Scholl.
Last season: 22-5 overall, 14-4 in South Suburban (tied for conference championship), won Class 4A, Section 3 championship, finished fifth in state tournament.
First game: at Lakeville South at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: University of Florida commit Sam Carlson makes the Blaze a favorite in any game where he takes the mound. He’s also one of the Blaze’s top returning hitters. Dan Sandvig, Max Hanson and Ryan Brunner are captains, along with Carlson. Infielder Andrew Hanson and pitcher Henry Ristvedt are two more key returnees for a Burnsville team that’s seeking another long postseason run.
Coach: Rob Walsh.
Last season: 7-15 overall, 5-13 in South Suburban, 0-2 in Class 4A, Section 3 playoffs.
First game: at Prior Lake at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: The Wildcats are looking to players such as senior pitcher Jack Husemann and junior catcher Drew Grunklee to help lead them to a bounceback season. Husemann was honorable mention all-conference in 2016, as were pitchers Sam Schaefer and Dane Miller.
Coach: Tom Strey.
Last season: 19-6 overall, 14-4 in South Suburban (tied for conference championship), finished second in Class 4A, Section 3 tournament.
First game: at Rosemount at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: The Lightning appears loaded, starting with pitcher/first baseman Danny Kapala, a University of Minnesota recruit who dueled Burnsville’s Sam Carlson in a section tournament game that the Blaze won 1-0. Also back are starting infielders Cullen Buck, Derek Larson and Brady Miller, along with senior Alex Lindstrom, who caught for the Lightning last season and is expected to play outfield this year.
Coach: Jon Graff.
Last season: 5-19 overall, 3-15 in South Suburban, 2-2 in Class 4A, Section 1 playoffs.
First game: a 7-6 victory over New Prague on Tuesday.
Next game: at Apple Valley at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: The Tigers will depend on a large group of returnees as they try to climb in the South Suburban standings. Senior infielder Sam Wilson is a two-time all-conference player. Junior Mikey Fredrickson, an honorable mention all-conference player, returns behind the plate. Zach Jakubowski pitched five strong innings in the opener against New Prague.
Coach: Tony Market.
Last season: 21-6 overall, 14-4 in South Suburban (tied for conference championship), won Class 4A, Section 1 tournament, fourth in state tournament.
First game: vs. Shakopee at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: The Panthers graduated several key members of their 2016 state tournament team but aren’t short on talent. Ross Bastyr and Luke Degrammont lead the rotation. Junior catcher Nick Juaire is already a two-time all-conference player. Infielder Tyler Fietek and outfielder/pitcher Nick Spitt also were regulars last season.
Coach: Bill Goodman.
Last season: 7-18 overall, 4-14 in South Suburban, 3-2 in Class 4A, Section 1 playoffs.
First game: vs. Burnsville at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.
Outlook: Goodman, whose son Kris was a standout player for Apple Valley a few years back, is in his first season as the Cougars’ head coach. One of the players he will build around is senior outfielder Joe McKibben, an honorable mention all-conference player last season. Infielder Reece English and pitcher Dalton Locklear are two more senior returnees.
Coach: Chris Swansson.
Last season: 8-14 overall, 7-11 in South Suburban, 0-2 in Class 4A, Section 3 playoffs.
First game: at Hastings at 4:15 p.m. Friday.
Outlook: You need pitching to survive in the South Suburban, and the Irish have pitching. Their top two starters, senior Griffin Lanoue and junior Aidan Maldonado, are committed to Division I programs, Lanoue to Xavier and Maldonado to Illinois. Lanoue is expected to play shortstop when not pitching. Catcher Ethan Engdahl and first baseman Dan Johnson are two more key returnees for the Irish.