SSC baseball teams battling for position

Eastview edges AV; both teams 2-2 in league

The key to playing baseball in April might be to not overreact to anything that happens during April baseball.

Prior Lake was the only team to make it through the first eight days of the South Suburban Conference schedule without losing. It will take a while for the league to sort itself out, and a lot of games could be decided by one pitch, one play in the field, or one big at-bat. One of those games was Monday, when Eastview edged Apple Valley 4-2, leaving both teams at 2-2 in conference play.

“It came down to Eastview getting a couple of big hits with runners in scoring position,” Apple Valley coach Jeremy Hendrickson said. “We’re all right. We’re playing well. Their pitcher, Danny Kapala, was definitely on his ‘A’ game, and we still had a chance to win. We’ll work on our situational hitting.”

Apple Valley’s bats heated up in the team’s first two games, where the Eagles scored a combined 14 runs in victories over Farmington and Lakeville South last week. They lost 8-1 to Shakopee on April 13 before Monday’s loss to Eastview dropped them back to .500.

The Eagles had eight hits against Kapala, a University of Minnesota recruit, so it’s not as if the bats have shut down. “I’ve been a little surprised with how well we’re hitting,” Hendrickson said. “Our team average is right around .300. The last couple of years we’ve seen it around .220, and last year it might have been closer to .215.”

This year, teams will need pitching – and a lot of it – to stay in the SSC race. Hendrickson said the Eagles can match up with the league’s top teams with a front three of Matt Arens, Zach Parks and Justin Firpo. Arens pitched the first five innings against Eastview, allowing seven hits and three earned runs. Arens threw about 90 pitches, well below the Minnesota State High School League-mandated regular-season maximum of 105.

Arens plays first base when not pitching. Parks, who like Arens is a senior, is the Eagles’ shortstop when not on the mound. Firpo, a junior, is the super-utility type.

“The nice thing about Justin is we can play him anywhere,” Hendrickson said. “It all depends on who’s pitching that day. If Zach (Parks) is pitching, Justin will play shortstop, but he can also play third base, outfield or catcher.”

Noah Sanders, another senior, will be the regular catcher. He was 3-for-3 and scored two runs against Eastview. Sanders, the quarterback of Apple Valley’s football team, has signed to play football at North Dakota State. For the baseball team, “his size and arm strength are real assets for us at catcher,” Hendrickson said.

Ryan Gale, a junior, has covered a lot of ground in center field, the coach said. James Graham had two hits and one RBI against Eastview. Hunter Reger pitched the final two innings in relief in Monday’s game.

Lightning improves to 2-2

Eastview’s 4-2 victory at Apple Valley on Monday brought the Lightning back to .500 at 2-2 and ended a two-game losing streak. In the first week of the season, Eastview faced the other two teams (Lakeville North and Burnsville) with which it shared the 2016 South Suburban Conference championship, losing both at home. The Lightning has rematches with those teams in the first week of May.

Danny Kapala pitched 6 2/3 innings against Apple Valley, holding the Eagles to two runs and eight hits while striking out seven. Ben Wilson came in to get the game’s final out.

Brady Miller went 3-for-4 with one run batted in Monday. Cullen Buck was 2-for-3 and scored twice. Nic Nelson, Tommy Springer and Kapala also drove in runs.