Baseball: Woodbury, East Ridge, New Life Academy prepare for spring season
The Royals are coming into the 2019 season with confidence and experience from a 2018 season that ended just short of the section finals.
Woodbury ended its regular season with an 11-9 record, including 8-8 in league play which placed the Royals in a tie for fourth place in the Suburban East Conference.
In the section tournament, the Royals defeated Tartan 8-3 and lost in the semifinals to Stillwater in a close 2-1 game. Woodbury went into a win-or-go-home mentality for the rest of the double elimination tournament.
The Royals went on to defeat White Bear Lake and Cretin-Derham Hall, which landed them in a game against Roseville for a spot in the section finals against Stillwater. It was a tough way to end the season, but Woodbury fell 13-3 to Roseville.
"We learned a lot from last year," said junior Brock Rinehart. "We took that loss and used it to get ready for the upcoming season. We are ready to make another push in sections with the hope of reaching state this year."
One thing the team learned was how tough the Suburban East Conference was, and still is.
Head coach Kevin McDermott said the mentality needs to be focused on one game at a time.
"I think the kids know it's not going to be easy and it's going to be a grind," McDermott said. "Our conference is loaded across the board and our section is much the same. I think guys are motivated, though, and ready for the season."
The Royals will bring back some strong hitters from last season as well as a handful of arms. Juniors Rodney Erickson, Quinn Krueger and Rinehart, who had some of the biggest bats, will be alongside seniors Luke Paulson and Mazur who will be placed in the lineup as well. McDermott also said the Royals have some depth beyond the starting lineup that will be utilized.
On the mound, Mazur and Krueger will be on top of the pitching rotation, and the two are excited and looking forward to the responsibility.
"I enjoy getting on the field and playing every day," Mazur said. "This is my last season, so I'm looking forward to teaching the younger players everything about this program and continuing this tradition at Woodbury."
Woodbury started the season with scrimmages in the last weekend of March in Wisconsin. The Royals will be ready to play the first week of April as the melting snow will help them start their season sooner than last season.
That's the motto for the East Ridge baseball team this season, and it's based around a committee that formed last fall.
After the 2018 season, the team formed a leadership council that included players of different grades. The goal was to meet with head coach Brian Sprout to understand different perspectives on the team.
The council formed a practice schedule for the offseason and made sure to have different ways for each of the players to meet and see each other before the season started. Those initiatives helped the Raptors, because coming into the first practice of spring, the entire team knew each other.
"The council was beneficial for this team because it helped us come together more," said senior Graham Netten. "Everyone has been working hard these last couple of weeks to get ready for the season and I'm excited to see us play in our first game."
The Raptors come off a 2018 season where they finished 9-11 in the regular season with a 7-9 conference record, seventh in the Suburban East Conference.
In the section tournament, East Ridge defeated Eagan 3-0 in the first round. The Raptors lost to Eastview in a close 1-0 game then fell to Apple Valley, 4-1, to end the season.
"We lost a little bit of the meat of our lineup from last year, but we have a handful of guys that have a lot of experience back," Sprout said. "On the mound, we got a good chunk of our innings back as well. So we have a lot of experience, but a handful of younger players coming up, too."
East Ridge will have seniors Tanner Stafne, Joe Trollen, Cam Hunter and Netten as well as junior Max Moris and sophomore Ben North to lead the team offensively. The Raptors will also lean on Stafne, Hunter, Netten and Blake Ritzer for help on the mound throughout the season.
The players are looking to work as a team to reach the common goal of winning sections and heading to the state tournament this season. The coaches and players understand it won't be an easy task as the Raptors are in one of the most competitive conferences in the state.
"We know how tough each game is during the season, especially in this conference," Moris said. "We also are confident in our skills both offensively and defensively to be competitive in each game on our schedule. We've all been looking forward to this spring season."
East Ridge will be opening up its regular season schedule on Friday, April 5, against River Falls at 4:15 p.m. at East Ridge High School. After that home game, the Raptors will hit the road for the next four games with all of them being conference opponents.
New Life Academy
The Eagles had a strong 2018 season, which included an 11-4 regular season record and a third-place finish in the conference standings with an 8-2 record.
After a strong regular season, New Life went to the section tournament in hopes of reaching the finals once again.
After defeating St. Paul Washington and Trinity, the Eagles fell to St. Croix Lutheran in the double-elimination tournament. New Life bounced back from the loss and won three straight games against St. Paul Academy, St. Paul Johnson and a revenge win against St. Croix Lutheran.
This brought the Eagles to the championship finals game against Minnehaha Academy. It's been a rivalry for a number of years, but this time New Life fell 9-1 to end its season.
"We've had a proud tradition at New Life Academy and we're excited to continue it this upcoming season," said head coach Dave Darr. "The players are excited to come to practice and they've been working hard to start the season. I'm looking forward to this season and hopefully ending it strong for our senior class."
The good part for Darr and the coaching staff is that the Eagles return seven of the nine starting players in the lineup. That lineup includes seniors Cooper Falteisek, Noah Rodriguez, Riley Grohn, Colin Quirk, Cooper Amon and Andrew Kroohn as well as juniors Zach Wicklund and Peter Bouillon.
The senior class has one goal they want to accomplish before they graduate.
"We want to get back to the championship finals in sections," Falteisek said. "This time, though, we want to get the win and go to the state tournament. We've been working hard to get ready for the season and we will work together this season to reach that goal."
The nice part for Darr is that the seniors act like coaches as well, which can help when running drills or giving encouragement. And because the majority of players understand the fundamentals, Darr and the coaching staff are able to dig into the smaller details to continue the legacy of this program.
Darr is able to help these juniors and seniors, but also focus some of his attention on the younger players that will be leading this team once the large senior class graduates this year.
It's been fun for Darr, as he said he looks forward to seeing each player grow from practice to practice. He also knows this team is going to be something special because of how they get along together and encourage each other with every task and drill that comes their way.
"We've been playing baseball together for a number of years and we all understand each other really well," Rodriguez said. "It'll be fun to work together on the field and, most importantly, give everything to God. We can't wait for the spring season."
New Life will start its season on Thursday, April 4, at 4:15 p.m. against rival Minnehaha Academy at HealthEast Sports Center.