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Senior depth leads Kernel baseball into season

Mitchell doesn't plan on over-relying on one aspect of its game. The Kernel baseball team returns plenty of seniors to its roster this season, leading to strengths up and down the lineup and players knowing their roles. "You look at guys who have...

Mitchell first baseman Max Schoenfelder fields the throw to first to record the out on Harrisburg's Sam Menke during the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday at Drake Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mitchell first baseman Max Schoenfelder fields the throw to first to record the out on Harrisburg's Sam Menke during the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday at Drake Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell doesn't plan on over-relying on one aspect of its game.

The Kernel baseball team returns plenty of seniors to its roster this season, leading to strengths up and down the lineup and players knowing their roles.

"You look at guys who have had a role for a number of years and just continued to stay in that role," Mitchell coach Luke Norden said. "We haven't expected more out of them or changed their role so they get accustomed to it."
The Kernels are coming off a 9-13 spring season, but went 30-26 in Legion play over the summer as they made their second straight Class A Legion title game appearance. They open their spring slate with a 4 p.m. doubleheader at Douglas on Saturday.

While the Kernels have put a focus on their mentality and approach to the game, they've also been fortunate with practices. They practiced inside at Dakota Wesleyan University during DWU's spring break, and have been able to practice outside more than last year, too.

"Last year we were outside for three days and played two games, then we were back inside for two weeks," Norden said. "As rough as it's been, the field looks great and it's dry enough now. Not too disappointed with what we have to work with."
While Norden expects his offense to struggle a little out of the gate due to not seeing live pitching yet, Mitchell gets a boost with the return of Carson Max. He missed all of last spring and most of the summer due to a shoulder injury, though he will add power to the lineup.

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However, after hitting leadoff in the summer, he's expected to shift down in the lineup as Drew Kitchens could occupy the leadoff spot. He hit .300 with a .395 on-base percentage last season.

"Kitchens rarely strikes out, just a hard-nosed guy," Norden said. "He takes a lot of pitches and does whatever he can to get on base. Maybe he'll fill the leadoff role this spring."

That said, Norden stressed the importance of being well-balanced throughout the lineup.

"We have a lot of different guys who can hit in a lot of different spots in the lineup," he said. "... You only hit leadoff one time in the game, so you're looking at anybody at anytime to be able to step up in the lineup."

Kitchens will also be asked to continue his role as a relief pitcher. Koby Larson (2.63 ERA) will also see relief innings, while Jared Miller (3.78 ERA/21 strikeouts), Calvin Hegg (4.46 ERA) and Jackson Sadler (2.33 ERA) are potential starters.

All are experienced pitchers who will also benefit from strong infield defense.

"Our senior class, the majority of them have been with us since they were freshmen," Norden said. "We didn't have a Junior Legion team when they were freshmen, so a lot of them came up to play and saw time on the mound. They've been continuing to get more innings and be part of our main core group of guys."

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