Spring Preview: New Life baseball
It's a new year with a new coach, yet a familiar goal remains for the New Life Academy baseball team.
2004 assistant coach Brian Fizel takes over at the helm of the Eagles program in Dennis Goodwin's absence, but the team's focus remains on winning their first Minnesota Christian Athletic Association title.
"Expectations are pretty high around here," Fizel said. "We're going after that conference title."
Fizel inherits an experienced team as six of the 14 varsity players are seniors. With only a handful of practices under their belt, the coach said that no one has a place "locked up," but that the team does have a lot of talent.
"I'm still looking at the right combination to put the best team on the field," he said.
A few obvious choices are seniors Andy Meier and Bob Folsom. Folsom was second on the team in batting average (.472) and slugging percentage (.585) last season, and Meier led the team in batting (.574) and runs batted in (22) while managing a couple wins off the pitcher's mound.
The Eagles ace, Michael Sarne also returns for his senior year. Sarne, who also played some first base, led New Life in just about every hurling category with six wins, a 3.50 ERA and 32 strikeouts with only 13 walks.
NLA will look to a strong influx of young talent to make up for the loss of pitcher/left fielder Adam Pautsch, catcher Luke Sabbann, and second baseman Tony Schalke.
"We have a strong foundation of talent," Fizel said. "We'll be looking to this year's senior class to help bring them along."
This will be Fizel's first stint as a head coach after a baseball career that took him from the University of Minnesota to South Carolina to the University of Wisconsin-Stout collegiately as a pitcher and through 11 seasons in amateur ball as a third baseman.
"I've had a pretty broad experience in the game with coaches that were very knowledgeable and were good teachers," he said. "It's hard to translate some of that to this team, but it was good experience."
Fizel said that he believes in teaching the fundamentals, but also making sure that the team has a good time playing the game.
"You've got to keep them coming back," he said. "I try to keep everyone doing something and having fun."
Both Fizel and his players will be on guard against a repeat of 2004, which saw the Eagles jump out to a 6-2 start before tailing off to a 9-8 finish punctuated by an 11-1 loss to Mounds Park Academy in the first round of the Sub-Section 4A playoffs.
"We started off real strong but that tapered off," Fizel said. "This year, we need to keep our focus all season long and finish as strong as we started."
If there is one positive about last year's tailspin, the coach puts it succinctly:
"What happened last season has made us a much more hungry team this year."