Team: Waconia baseball
Coach: Mark Grundhofer
Assistants: Collin Bender, Josh Sell, and Terry Gammell
Conference: Wright County
Section: Class AAA, Section 2
2013 finish: The Wildcats were able to squish 20 games into the weather-shortened season last year, finishing 11-9-1. Waconia was fourth in the Wright County Conference and kicked off its Section 2AAA tournament with a win over Buffalo. The Wildcats subsequently lost to Minnetonka, before defeating New Prague. They were eliminated from the tournament in a loss to Chaska. Waconia graduated five seniors including All-Conference pitchers Dan Butz and Josh Lenz.
Head coach Mark Grundhofer’s roster is already set and boasts a depth that the team hasn’t seen in years.
“I’ve got options,” Grundhofer said. “I’ve got at least two quality kids at every position.”
The Wildcats return four pitchers, who’ve all thrown varsity innings before, in seniors Jacob Herd and Dylan Lindner, along with 2013 All-Conference Honorable Mention juniors Jacob Stevenson and Roch Whittaker.
Behind the plate, All-Conference Honorable Mention catcher Nick Hukriede returns for his senior season and will split time behind the plate with senior Sam Schiffman. When they’re not catching, Hukriede can play first base, while Schiffman will DH.
First base is covered with a lot of height by the 6-foot-4 Whittaker and 6-foot-7 junior Cole Peters, both juniors. At second base, senior Jacob Herd will return to his starting position, backed up by junior Austin Nichols. Senior Blake Pistulka returns to his shortstop position, backed up by junior Shannon Storley.
Replacing former third baseman Dan Butz will be tough, Grundhofer said, but senior Tommy Gove, Whittaker, and Lindner are all capable of filling the void.
Grundhofer has a variety of players to choose from in the outfield, including Stevenson, Blake Bender, Gove, Cole Sawyer, Cody Tucker, and Storley.
Key newcomers: With such an experienced varsity team returning, most of the faces on the bench will be familiar throughout the season, although junior varsity players may be asked to step up and help out from time to time.
Teams to beat: With the level of talent among all the teams in the Wright County Conference’s East division, they’re all teams to beat. Hutchinson, Delano, Orono, Mound-Westonka, and Holy Family will provide a challenge to each other and Waconia in what Grundhofer expects to be a “dog fight” of a season for the WCC title.
“There’s just a lot of good baseball,” he said. “Just a mosh pit of teams.”
Grundhofer predicts that the WCC winner will have a handful of losses on their record and that all the teams should be closely bunched together in the chase.
The section is also decorated with talented squads in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Shakopee, and Mankato West, to name a few.
Although the Wildcats return a lot of experience, many other teams on the schedule do too, and Grundhofer isn’t seeing any blowout games this season, but many that are similar to last year’s section playoffs: where winners are determined by just a few runs.
“It’s going to be tight ball games,” he said.
Goals: Every year since he started coaching 19 seasons again, Grundhofer’s season-long goal has remained the same: win 10 or more games, which puts the team above .500. In 15 of those 19 seasons, including the last three years, he’s achieved that.
First games: The Wildcats are scheduled to kick off the season April 8 in Hutchinson, but with the lingering snow, are more likely to start April 11 and 12 when Waconia hosts Shakopee and Minnetonka.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]