By Paul Downer
By Paul Downer
As might be expected over the course of highly competitive season, the Central baseball team encountered ups and downs en route to a 12-9 record.
The Raiders started the season 1-4, damaging their hopes for a Minnesota River Conference title with early losses to Belle Plaine and Jordan, but caught fire once the conference season began in earnest on April 21.
Steady pitching, primarily from seniors Tim Willems and Tim Swanson, along with improved defense and just enough offense carried the Raiders on a seven-game winning streak over MRC opponents. That streak was snapped in a double-header split with eventual MRC champion LeSueur-Henderson, but the Raiders had recovered enough to finish second in the MRC with a 9-5 record when all was said and done.
Competition remained fierce in the playoffs, where the Raiders bounced Jordan in a 1-0, nine-inning game, but fell 1-0 to Belle Plaine in another nine-inning contest a few days later.
"Our conference was probably as even as it’s ever been. You look at where everybody ended up overall and everybody was right around .500," said Raiders head coach Jon Wroge. "There was just a lot of parity in our conference this year. That makes for a fun season, but everybody probably can say, ‘I wish I could have this game back or that game back,’ because everybody probably thought they could win the conference this year."
In that sense, Central’s second place finish was something to celebrate, but Wroge said that he had hoped to make a deeper push into the playoffs.
"I definitely hoped for more. If everyone had been healthy I was looking at being in the final four, getting to that double-elimination round. Since we had some guys who could throw a little bit I thought we’d be OK, but the one thing that was always in the back of my mind, I didn’t know if we were going to hit," he said. "It was hard for us to score runs. If you look at our scores, it was usually 2-4 runs difference, and our pitchers just did that good a job keeping us in games."
As a team the Raiders hit a mediocre .275, but some stellar pitching helped mask that deficiency. Swanson, an all-conference selection, was named the MRC Pitcher of the Year after throwing 40.2 innings with an ERA of 0.69. He struck out 27 batters against 11 walks, limited opposing batters to a .206 average and posted a 5-1 record overall.
Willems, another all-conference performer who led the team in hitting with a .370 average, was also a shut-down hurler for the club, throwing 39.1 innings and posting a 1.96 ERA with 35 strikeouts, 17 walks, an opponent batting average of .187 and a 4-1 record.
"On the mound, it’s hard to complain when your two seniors throw 80 innings combined and their ERA is about 1.5," said Wroge. "Those two guys are going to be really hard to replace next year on the mound."
Wroge said that Swanson’s Pitcher of the Year honors were the first in quite some time for Central.
"I think a lot of guys learned that you don’t have to throw that hard by watching Tim Swanson. Tim changed speeds, threw three pitches for strikes and kept opposing batters off-balance, which was fun to see," he said. "He was the true term of a pitcher. He didn’t overpower guys, he just made them hit his pitch. I think a lot of our younger guys learned a lot this year from watching him throw."
Also joining the all-conference team was freshman Isaac Hormann, who played all 149 innings for the Raiders at shortstop and was second on the team with a .338 batting average and five doubles.
Sophomore second baseman Casey Clemsensen earned all-conference honorable mention honors, batting .324 and stealing a team-leading seven bases.
"We really struggled early defensively, but toward the middle and later half of the year we were pretty solid. We just didn’t give much away. That was due a lot to our middle of Isaac at short and Casey at second," said Wroge. "Those two guys are going to be there for a couple more years, which will be nice to have."
Aside from Hormann, the only other iron man to play every inning of the season was senior catcher Robin Hatterschide, who batted .276 and knocked in 12 runs, and who also hit Central’s only home run of the season.
"Catching is really going to be a question mark for us next year. Robin Hatterschide has done a great job the last two years," said Wroge. "He’s unbelievably great behind the dish defensively – works hard, blocks balls like no one I’ve seen in a while. He just works and works and works back there. He’s going to be a really tough guy to replace."
Other departing seniors, in addition to Hatterschide, Swanson and Willems, are Jevon Rondeau, who led the team in RBIs with 16, Andrew Leonhardt and Brandon Hoen.
"I’m sad to see this group of seniors go. They were good guys, worked hard, were always excited to come to the field and had a good time," said Wroge. "When we were at the park they worked hard. It was fun to coach these guys. It’s hard to say goodbye. You make pretty good connections with them, and it stinks. That’s part of coaching though."
Next season Wroge will have some building blocks to work with, including Kyle Brazil, who was expected to be a third ace for the team before an arm injury limited his time on the mound.
Taylor Trick, Jordan Kohls, Hormann and Clemensen will add depth to the pitching staff, and Matt Tibbs saw plenty of action at the corners for the Raiders this season.
"I’m really optimistic already for next year," Wroge said. "We have plenty of arms coming up. Hopefully we can get to the level we were at this year."