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2014 Spring Preview: Woodbury baseball team turns toward core of senior pitchers this season

From left, Woodbury senior pitchers Ben Meyer, Nick Bentley, Nick Yan and Dillon Waugh will help buoy the Royals baseball team this spring. Meyer, Bentley and Yan were each all-conference last season. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)1 / 2
Woodbury senior Nick Yan is one of a number of key returning players to the Royals this year. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)2 / 2

The Woodbury baseball team faces the unenviable task of replacing five key players from last season, but the Royals intend to ease the transition behind the strength of their pitching.

Woodbury returns three all-conference pitchers in Nick Yan, Ben Meyer and Nick Bentley - and that’s a good place to start. Mix in Dillon Waugh and the Royals will have one of the better pitching staffs in the rugged Suburban East Conference this season.

Meyer, a senior righthander, led the team in innings pitched and held a 2.33 ERA in six games. Meyer finished with a 3-1 record with one complete game. He’ll serve as the workhorse of the staff and has shown the capability of out-dueling any opponent.

“Ben Meyer pounds the zone,” Woodbury head coach Kevin McDermott said. “He keeps us in every game. He knows how to pitch and competes very well.”

Meyer outpitched Burnsville’s Tyler Hanson, who has since gone to play at the University of Minnesota, in the American Legion playoffs last summer. Meyer threw a complete game shutout in a 4-0 victory over Burnsville. Burnsville won the double-elimination tournament, however, and went on to the American Legion World Series.

Following Meyer in the rotation is senior righthander Nick Bentley. Bentley finished with a 2.19 ERA in 22 1/3 innings last season and had a 2-3 record in five starts. Bentley throws a four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup. Bentley has touched 85 miles per hour with his fastball in the past.

Bentley isn’t satisfied with where he’s at and anticipates making strides in improving this season.

“I’m still working on my pitches,” Bentley said. “I’m still not where I want to be in my growth as a pitcher.”

The Royals coaching staff preaches keeping the ball low in the strike zone and pitching to contact. It’s a formula that has given Woodbury an opportunity in every game in the past and it’s a model the pitchers have whole-heartedly adopted.

“We have a pitching rotation that is really, really motivated to do better than we did last year,” Bentley said.

Last season the Royals finished 11-10 and 9-9 in the SEC. Woodbury lost its first round playoff matchup with Roseville.

Waugh won two games for the Royals in 13 innings of work and will see an increased workload after Woodbury graduated Nate Wallgren and Brandon Mazur. Wallgren threw 19 1/3 innings last season and Mazur pitched 21 1/3 innings. Waugh throws his fastball in the low 80s and has noticed more of a sense of urgency with the team this season.

“I think we’re really serious this year,” Waugh said.

Then there’s Yan, who threw 15 2/3 innings last season and finished with a 3.13 ERA. Yan will likely slide into a reliever role this season, McDermott said. Yan typically starts and centerfield and will bat leadoff this season.

Second baseman Ryan Scanlon, shortstop Quinten Strub and third baseman Ryan Sharp all graduated last spring, not to mention outfielders Ryan Winter and Sawyer Moon. Winter, who earned an All-Metro team selection by the Star Tribune, hit over .400 and stole 28 bases as Woodbury finished with an 11-10 record overall and 9-9 in the Suburban East Conference.

The Royals have some help in sophomore Brady Mundahl and junior Max Newman, who both showed potential during the VFW season last summer.

With so many spots to fill this season there will be plenty of competition, which McDermott believes will help the team.

“We think we have some good depth this year,” McDermott said. “We hope that competition for spots makes are team better. We like our pitching and team speed, so if we can catch it and hit it on top of those things we will put ourselves in a position to compete on a daily basis.”

The season begins May 6 for Woodbury against Tartan at Midway Stadium in St. Paul.

“We’re extremely hungry,” Bentley said. “A .500 record is not what we think is a good season. We’re one of those teams that wants to compete for a conference championship. We look at as we’re all doing it because we want to bring pride to our school. We want our record to reflect on how our coaches are coaching us.”

-Nick Gerhardt