Weather poses practice challenge
Rumor has it that baseball season is just around the corner in the Northland — that is, if winter ever ends.
Coaches around Carlton County are trying to find ways to keep players interested and fired up while we wait for the snow to melt.
"We're scheduled to play at Wade Stadium on turf next week," South Ridge coach Tyler Olin said. "It's been nice knowing we should have that surface to play on in the next week or so."
But other than that, it's pretty grim.
"After that, we will break into intersquad teams and creating various competitions in the gym," Olin added.
Esko coach Ben Haugen has a "cage scrimmage" scheduled.
Barnum coach Tony Bender says creativity is the key.
"We are trying to be creative and keep a relaxed practice schedule," he said. "We try to keep things fun and use the limited indoor space to the best of our ability."
McGregor/Cromwell-Wright coach Tom Burman has his kids practicing and hitting indoors.
And in Moose Lake, coach Matt Niedzielski has created competitive mini-games for his players. "It's been a challenge, but you can never work on team bonding enough," he said.
Here's a capsule look at some of Carlton County's boys of — um —- summer.
Coach: Tony Bender (seventh season)
Last season's record: 4-12
Graduated seniors: Colton Zeigler (C), Kameron Romonowski (P/OF), Devon Torgeson (IF/P), Levi Westerberg (P/IF), Logan McNulty (CF/P).
Top returning players: Tyler Nynas (SS/P), Saul Mhyre (2B/P), Max Salzer (CF/P), Conner Buell (IF), Ryan Weller (1B/P).
What the coach says: "This team is going to need to work hard both defensively and offensively to compete in Section 7AA this season," Bender said. "We have some good skilled players at key positions. We have a fast group of players which means creating offense and potential problems for teams defensively. I expect that we will be a competitive and hard-working team with the potential to improve every game. I expect us to be above .500 this season and improve on last year' record. We'll be aggressive at the plate, fundamentally sound defensively, and have our pitchers throw strikes."
Coach: Rick Norrgard (seventh season)
Last season's record: 13-10
Top returning players: Tim Pokornowski (P/CF), Cooper Grashorn (2B), Jon Baker (P/SS), Gavin Rasmussen (P/IF/OF), Nick Baker (C/IF)
What the coach says: The Lumberjacks return five starters from last year's team, which finished 13-10 on the season and in fourth place in the Section 7AAA tournament. Tim Pokornowski a pitcher/centerfielder and Cooper Grashorn a second baseman, are the two returning seniors who saw starting action, while juniors Jon Baker, Gavin Rasmussen and Nick Baker were also starters last year and will return. Jon Baker is a pitcher/shortstop, Rasmussen pitchers, plays infield and outfield and Nick Baker catches and plays the infield.
"The strength of our team should be with the pitching as Tim, Jon and Gavin were the top three pitchers on last years team," coach Rick Norrgard said. "We should also be good defensively and have good team speed. Hopefully being another year older will help with hitting and we will score more runs."
Contributions should also come from seniors Pat Delizo a pitcher/outfielder, Noah Witte also a pitcher/outfielder, Adam Luinga pitcher/infielder, Parker Lundberg a pitcher/infielder, Ryan Leyrer an outfielder and junior infielder Noah Niemi.
"Grashorn, Rasmussen and Pokornowski are our top returning offensive players from last year's team," Norrgard said. "Nick and Jon Baker also produced good offensive numbers last season in legion ball as well. Our expectations are high. We have seven solid seniors and four juniors that will all contribute this season."
Coach: Ben Haugen (12th season)
Last year's record: 18-6, third place Section 7AA
Graduated seniors: Reid Davidson, P, SS; Ryan Bourgeault, P, 1B; Ben Fischer, P; Bryce Bottila, P; Eric Newman, OF
Top returning players: Tyler Peterson, C, Brody Kaldahl, P/SS, Ryan Nelson, Branden Matteen, CF
What the coach says: "We expect to compete every pitch and be there for each other as a team," Haugen said. "We feel if we can do this we'll be in the hunt for our fifth consecutive Polar League title and the Section 7AA title. We can swing it. We should be solid defensively."
Coach: Tom Burman (first season)
Last year's record: 3-12
Top returning players: 1B-P Dusty Demenge, OF Joey Glenz, IF-P Joe Baker
What the coach says: First-year McGregor/Cromwell head coach Tom Burman will inherit a team that has three players returning who saw extensive playing time and a team that includes six seniors, which is a convenience most small schools do not have.
"We hope to turn the record around, but either way, we will be competitive," Burman said. "I feel that our team defense will be a strength."
Moose Lake-Willow River
Coach: Matt Niedzielski (sixth season)
Last year's record: 7-13
Graduated seniors: SS-P Wyatt Lampel, CF Nick Wegge
Top returning players: SS-P Mark Fossum, IF-P Ian Coi,, 3B-P Brendon Fogelberg, IF Ethan Mayer, Utility-DH Remington Starck, Utility-P Cooper Bexell, OF-P Danny Whited, C Jordan Fjosne
What the coach says: "We're very excited about the amount of returning starters and contributors from last year's team," Niedzielski said. "As a team, we are planning on playing better defense and taking more disciplined at-bats. The future does look bright and we're excited to finally get outside and get things going.
"Our team goal is to be competitive in every game we play," he said. "Whether that means we finish as section champions or we are out of the tournament in the first round, we are working to play fundamentally sound baseball for seven innings every game."
Coach: Tyler Olin (fourth season)
Last season's record: 17-5
Graduated seniors: Mark Lisic C/P, Christian Houle SS/P, Vinny Wood P/1B
Top returning players (positions): captains Nick Carlson (P/CF), Elias Tuominen (3B/P), Joey Janke (C/Utility)
What the coach says: "We have high expectations," Olin said. "We are relatively young, but we have lots of numbers and I feel as though we will be competitive. The high number of players creates depth and internal competition to get better.
"We have one senior, three juniors and nine sophomores returning," he said. "We are young, but that is fairly common in Class A. We have nine players that saw a good amount of playing time."
Coach: Paul DeVall (third season)
Top returning players: Randy Wimmer (P/OF), Brennan Kelley (P/SS)
What the coach says: The Wrenshall Wrens will look to improve on a season where they managed only one win in 2017. Among the keys to Wrenshall will be improved play by a roster that has a bit more depth than in the past few years.
"We graduated two seniors last year," coach Paul DeVall said. "A couple of impact players who return for us this year are Randy Wimmer, a sophomore, and senior Brennan Kelley. Randy pitched and played outfield and batted .333 last season, while Brennan played shortstop and was a pitcher. Brennan batted .467 last year with seven doubles."
The fact that the Wrens will have a solid nucleus coming back for another year will be a huge help toward trying to add more wins into that side of the win-loss column.
"I believe that we will definitely be improved this season," DeVall said. "Several young players have matured and could make an impact this season."