2012 Spring Preview: Will the roar be restored? Depth could revitalize Woodbury baseball teamWith a dozen seniors comprising this year’s roster, fourth-year coach Kevin McDermott figures there’s nowhere to go but up this year for his Royals.
By: Mike Longaecker, Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Kevin McDermott didn’t have to spare many words when asked what the Woodbury baseball team’s key losses were last year.
“Many,” he replied.
Indeed, his Royals struggled last year to a 4-16 record and finished the season in the Suburban East Conference cellar. But with a dozen seniors comprising this year’s roster, the fourth-year coach figures there’s nowhere to go but up this year for his Royals.
“I think we’re going to be better,” McDermott said.
Last year, Woodbury started the season 3-2, but a wretched 14-game losing streak quickly soured the Royals’ season. What was perhaps the lowest point came at season’s end when rival East Ridge beat Woodbury for a third time on the year, 6-0, in the first round of the playoffs.
Hoping to turn things around, the Royals spent late March tuning up for the regular season in Florida at the Atlanta Braves’ training facilities and scrimmaging other teams. McDermott said the Royals have already shown improvements where last year’s team struggled – namely, defense and timely hitting. He said a March 27 game in Florida provided evidence that Woodbury can string together hits and score runs.
“That was an encouraging sign,” the coach said.
McDermott said the combination of experience, stronger pitching and baserunning should bode well for the 2012 Royals.
Perhaps chief among the Royals’ strengths is depth. Woodbury’s key returning players include: Ryan Fritze, Noah Danner, Brandon Mazur, Steven Fingleton, Chris Hofacker, Chase Lonetti, Ben Rexroth, Tyler Trifiletti, Joe Wood, Jacob Roerick, Ryan Scanlon and Jordan Lund.
One of last year’s top sluggers, Michael Policano, was lost to graduation however.
In an attempt to solidify Woodbury’s defense, McDermott said he’s making a strategic change with one of last year’s other top players, Fritze. Instead of returning to the starting rotation, the senior is moving to shortstop.
“He’s our best athlete,” McDermott said. “He shores up our defense.”
Fritze still figures to be part of the pitching staff, but in a more limited role. McDermott said he anticipates bringing in Fritze to close out games. He also didn’t leave out the possibility that Fritze could start the occasional game.
“But we’ve got some depth on the mound,” the coach said.
He expected Masur, a junior, to pitch opening day for the Royals. Rounding out the rotation will be Danner, a senior, and junior Nate Walgren. McDermott said juniors Sawyer Moon – the Royals’ starting quarterback on the football team – and Ryan Winter, will also figure into the mix this year. Moon, an outfielder, could also toe the rubber, the coach said.
“We’re definitely senior-oriented, but with juniors in crucial, crucial, crucial roles,” he added.
A new rules change this year will likely play a big impact on high school baseball. Minnesota has mandated the use of new BBCOR bats, which are supposed to act more like wood bats and less like the recent aluminum bats. The NCAA implemented BBCOR bats last year and Division I batting average, scoring and home runs per game in 2011 resembled the wood-bat 1970s more than recent years.
Some baseball coaches miss the power-laden aluminum bats, but others say the new bats bring the game of baseball back to the way it was originally designed to play. Regardless, it’s widely believed more emphasis will be placed on pitching and defense and executing the little things instead of numerous towering home runs and warning-track doubles.
Woodbury will spend the bulk of its season competing in the SEC – a conference McDermott said is always tough.
“There’s no freebies, that’s for sure,” he said.
In the Suburban East, Forest Lake (ranked sixth) looks like the best team, followed by Stillwater (ranked 10th) and Cretin-Derham Hall (ranked 19th). Defending Class AAA state champion Burnsville is ranked No. 1 again this preseason.
In Section 4AAA, Hill-Murray is ranked seventh overall and could be the team to beat. But, Stillwater and Cretin-Derham Hall are expected to be in the mix as well.
Woodbury opens the season today in a non-conference game at Rosemount.
The game kicks off a long road stretch to open the season. The Royals are playing six games on the road due to field problems at Royals Stadium. McDermott said the field was infested last year by Asian beetles. The field wasn’t re-seeded until last fall and is taking time to grow.
For now, the team has been practicing at Ojibway Park fields, where Woodbury’s other teams also play. The flipside, he said, has been the experience has been beneficial for younger players to be able to mix with the varsity teams. McDermott said the home field should be in playing shape sometime this month.
Woodbury’s home opener is scheduled for Monday, April 23, against SEC foe Mounds View.
“It’s been a little bit chaotic,” McDermott said.