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East Ridge senior Drew Moline is back with the Raptors this spring and expected to play a key role.

2013 Spring Preview: Defense will be early focus for East Ridge baseball team

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East Ridge will return to the field this season with only a few returning starters from last year's 9-12 team, but head coach Brian Sprout says there's talent with the Raptors this season.

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Junior catcher Luke Ringhofer along with junior pitcher Drew Molin, senior left fielder Ryan Gregory, junior shortstop and pitcher Parker Moquist and sophomore third baseman Carter Stoehr are among the returners, but there's plenty of competition for open spots on the field.

"Right now we have competition at three or four spots," Sprout said. "It's great competition because they're all talented enough to play varsity, it's just that they can't all play varsity."

Ringhofer hit .317 last season with seven RBI and Stoehr finished with a .339 average in 19 games.

Sprout has Molin penciled in as the team's No. 1 starter after he went 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA in 38 innings with 22 strikeouts. Moquist will fill another starting pitching spot as the Raptors will adjust to roster turnover.

After an up-and-down season where East Ridge picked up eight of its nine wins by one run, the Raptors will focus on defense early. Errors plagued East Ridge early on and later in the season and that's one area Sprout will want to see improved.

"We made some errors and gave some games away," Sprout said. "We figured that out partway through the season and we beat some teams. In the playoffs kind of all those old things that did us in in the first few games came back to haunt us."

The Raptors saw their season come to a close in the first round of the Section 4AAA playoffs with a 5-3 loss to Tartan.

"Talent-wise we were good but we weren't great so we had to work hard to win games and there were games we weren't quite there," Sprout said.

The goal is also to find some consistency after East Ridge struggled in that area. The Raptors won four out of six games during the middle of the season last year but went 3-5 in its last eight games.

"We want to be playing our best ball near the end of the year toward tournament time," Sprout said. "It's a steady progression toward that. We're not going to be our best every single day, but we need to be working toward that with the idea in mind that we're focused on the next game."

East Ridge is scheduled to begin the season Thursday, April 4, against River Falls at East Ridge High School.

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