Kernel baseball opens season with doubleheader today against Sioux Falls Lincoln at homeAfter falling short of its state championship aspirations two consecutive years, the Mitchell high school baseball team is returning a large group of players and will be gunning for a state title this year.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
After falling short of its state championship aspirations two consecutive years, the Mitchell high school baseball team is returning a large group of players and will be gunning for a state title this year.
“We have a good nucleus coming back,” said Mitchell coach Luke Norden, whose team last won a state title in 2009 and starts its season at 1 p.m. today against Sioux Falls Lincoln in a doubleheader at Drake Field in Mitchell. “We have 10 returners from last year, and they’ll all be moving around and playing a majority of the innings.”
In 2010, the Kernels lost to Sioux Falls O’Gorman in the state’s wildcard game to end their season, and they lost to Sioux Falls Roosevelt in a state semifinal game last year in Sioux Falls. Both O’Gorman and Roosevelt went on to win titles.
But this year, Mitchell might have a bit of an early advantage over the rest of the state.
For a number of years, high school baseball was played with aluminum bats, but the South Dakota High School Baseball Association made the switch this season so all games will be played with only wood or wood-composite bats, likely decreasing the number of average runs scored in each game.
Norden’s teams have always been stressed on the importance of bunting, having good at-bats and running the bases efficiently.
With those skills, the Kernels — who drew a program-record 121 walks as a team last year — should be ready to play more small-ball, manufacture runs and win close ballgames.
“We haven’t had to change anything,” Norden said. “Some of the teams we play in the spring have the philosophy of just swinging away and hope for the big inning.
“I think with a lot of the signs and plays we have offensively, guys have a real aggressive mentality on the bases and understand that we have to take advantage of every possibility to score. I would be highly surprised if we don’t lay a squeeze bunt down every game.”
The Kernels lost three seniors from last year’s team, including their starting second baseman, third baseman and shortstop.
Still, the team returns four outfields who saw plenty of playing time and a catcher who was a key component to the Kernels’ bottom of the order offense.
Seniors Zach Bennett, Lakin Neugebauer and Brent Havlik will all see time a majority of the time in the outfield. They’ll share time with Kirby Fuerst, who also returns from last year.
Michael Sadler caught nearly all of Mitchell’s spring games last year and finished with a .400 batting average and 19 RBIs. He will be backed up by Alex Herrick, a newcomer to the high school team. Two other new players on the team are Jacob Haiar and Ty Moody.
Jared Schmidt — who had a team-high 15 stolen bases last year — will be the team’s primary shortstop and Evan Mastel will help man the left side of the infield at third base. Calvin Limberg and Seth Cavanaugh each play second base, shortstop and first base along with Josh Schmidt.
Norden didn’t have an exact plan for the batting order, but added that the Schmidt twins and Bennett should be in the middle of the order for power.
Jared Schmidt had a team-best .433 average last year and had 16 RBIs. Fuerst hit .333 last year and Bennett hit .304 and had 14 RBIs. Josh Schmidt recorded 13 RBIs.
“Guys understand that we’re going out there to win baseball games and not put up monster numbers,” said Norden, who added nearly everyone on the team will be called upon to record innings on the mound. “They really buy into that and understand we’re not going out there to swing away.”