Panthers can hold their own on the mound

North baseball looking for upgraded offense

After having a 0.00 earned-run average as a reliever last season, Luke Degrammont will take his turn in Lakeville North's starting rotation. File photo
After having a 0.00 earned-run average as a reliever last season, Luke Degrammont will take his turn in Lakeville North’s starting rotation. File photo

Lakeville North coach Tony Market described South Suburban Conference baseball as “loaded with pitching.”

While that means North hitters will have their hands full against pitchers such as Burnsville’s Sam Carlson (who has signed with the University of Florida) and Eastview’s Danny Kapala (Minnesota), the Panthers aren’t likely to come up short on the mound. They return several pitchers with varsity experience from a team that finished fourth in the 2016 state Class 4A tournament. North wasn’t far from finishing much higher, either – the Panthers led eventual champion Wayzata 2-0 in the sixth inning of the state semifinal before losing 4-2 in eight innings on a walk-off home run.

North also should have pitching depth, something that could take on even more importance this year as the National Federation of State High School Associations mandated pitch count limits. The national organization left it to state associations to set their own limits, but they’re fairly similar state to state. In Minnesota, a starter on three or more days of rest can throw no more than 105 pitches in a regular-season game; the limits are lower if a pitcher is working on less rest. The Minnesota State High School League isn’t messing around – pitch counts for all B-squad, junior varsity and varsity games must be posted to the MSHSL website, with forfeits and coach suspensions in play for violations.

Market said North shouldn’t have trouble adhering to the new rules, although he added the Panthers are likely to carry an extra pitcher on the varsity roster, just in case.

“We definitely have more position players that also pitch than we’ve had in the past,” he said. “We’ve always built our teams on pitching and defense. This year we’ve got some young guys competing for spots, and we’ll start the season with some kids who haven’t played much on varsity yet, but we have a chance to be the same kind of team.”

North’s top two starting pitchers are likely to be senior right-hander Ross Bastyr and senior left-hander Luke Degrammont, both of whom have signed with Concordia University in St. Paul. Bastyr, whose fastball reached the mid-80s last season, was 6-0 with a 1.98 earned-run average in 2016. He shut out Wayzata for the first five innings of the state Class 4A semifinal game last June at CHS Field.

Degrammont threw 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out nine, as North defeated Maple Grove 2-1 in the Class 4A quarterfinals. That earned him a spot on the all-tournament team. A midseason callup from the junior varsity, Degrammont had five saves and a 0.00 ERA as a reliever in 2016.

Juniors Nick Spitt, Collin Denk and Nathaniel Peterson also will pitch, as will senior Sean Flaherty. Ryan Sleeper, a sophomore left-hander, also could see some varsity time.

They’ll throw to junior catcher Nick Juaire, who is entering his third year as a starter and has verbally committed to Texas Christian University. “He has a lot of experience working with our pitchers,” Market said of last year’s team MVP. “Now that he’s older, we expect he will be more assertive with his teammates. And now that he’s chosen a college, it should help him relax and just concentrate on playing the game without thinking about where he’s going to go to school.”

Last year Juaire batted .365 with 16 RBI. He figures to bat in the middle of the lineup, as will senior third baseman Tyler Fietek. Fietek, who will play at Iowa Central Community College, led North with 22 RBI last season.

Other returning position players include Spitt, an outfielder, and center fielder Michael Dooney, who batted .297 last season and was named to the all-tournament team at state. A sophomore, Gavin Baker, likely will start the season at shortstop.

While facing the top pitchers in the South Suburban Conference will be a challenge, Market said he’s hoping the offense can take some pressure off the pitchers. Last year North went 21-6 despite hitting only .259 as a team.

North will face Wayzata in a home scrimmage Friday afternoon before opening its season against Shakopee at home at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.