Lightning looks to be one of SSC’s top baseball teams

Starting infield returns for Eastview

Eastview’s baseball players spent several days in Florida during spring break and had the look of a team that was ready to go, coach Tom Strey said.

The Lightning returns a number of players – the entire starting infield, to begin with – from a team that shared the South Suburban Conference championship with Burnsville and Lakeville North in 2016.

What Eastview didn’t share with those two teams was an opportunity to play in the state tournament. The Lightning’s postseason run ended with two losses to Burnsville in the Class 4A, Section 3 tournament. Lakeville North (which won the Section 1 title) and Burnsville went on to place fourth and fifth at state.

What will it take for Eastview to get to the tourney for the first time since 2012, its only appearance at state? “The conference season prepares us well for the section tournament,” Strey said. “When you play the teams we play in the conference, you just have to keep battling, and it’s the same thing when we get to the section.”

Strey echoed other South Suburban Conference coaches in saying pitching throughout the league is especially deep this year. The Lightning graduated college-bound pitchers Riley Johnson (North Dakota State) and Dylan Brend (St. Thomas) from last year’s team but still has plenty of options on the mound.

Senior Danny Kapala, a University of Minnesota commit, pitched Eastview’s last game of the 2016 season, holding Burnsville to one run and five hits in a 1-0 section tournament loss. Tommy Springer, a junior, also saw time on the mound for the Lightning. Seniors Brady Miller, Derek Larson and Ben Wilson pitched extensively for the Eastview American Legion team last summer, and senior Patrick Pridgen also pitched in the summer.

With new rules in place requiring teams to monitor pitch counts, “we probably will keep an extra pitcher, where in the past we might have had five pitchers,” Strey said. “We’ve always been careful with kids’ arms. We’ll have to see what we can do later in the season as our pitchers build their arm strength – will we be able to start a kid on Monday and bring him back as a reliever on Thursday?”

Kapala, when not pitching, will start at first base. Also returning in the infield are starters Miller (third base), Cullen Buck and Nick Nelson.

Springer, an all-conference player last season, returns in the outfield. Senior Alex Lindstrom, the Lightning’s starting catcher last season, is likely to return to the outfield, his natural position. Larson and Logan Albrecht also are in line for outfield playing time.

Senior Owen Granger and junior Ross Cochran are likely to have catching duties.

With runs expected to be at a premium in South Suburban Conference games, teams won’t be able to afford defensive breakdowns. Strey said the Lightning looked solid in the field on its Florida trip, where it spent a lot of time practicing and played a couple of scrimmages.

Eastview teams, both spring and summer, never have been shy about playing what some call “small ball.” Bunting, stealing and the hit and run are likely to be staples of the Lightning offense again this year. “Against good pitching, it becomes even more important,” Strey said. “We think we have good hitters, but we could have a lot of low-scoring games in the conference.”

The Lightning’s conference and season opener is 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10, at Rosemount.