After having its first three scheduled competitions postponed due to weather, the Minnewaska Area baseball team hopes to take the field for its first game Friday, April 14 at ACGC.  Coaching the Lakers this year are head coach Joe Alexander and assistants, Chris Lence, Jesse Johnson, Andy Goracke, Drew Olsonowski and Josh Greene.

The opening doubleheader at Melrose, set for April 4, has been pushed back to May 8, while the game at home against Redwood Valley, set for April 6, has been pushed back to a later date yet to be determined, and a home game with BOLD, set for Tuesday, April 11, has been postponed until May 18.

Last year, the Lakers closed out the season with a 13-9 overall record, which included a 10-4 mark in the WCC to tie for second.  The Lakers had winning streaks of six and four games last season.

Morris Area-CA won the WCC title last year with a 13-1 league mark, followed by Minnewaska and Sauk Centre (both 10-4), Melrose Area (8-6), Montevideo (7-6), West Central Area (3-10), BOLD (3-11) and Benson (1-13).

“It is going to take our absolute best effort game-in and game-out during the WCC and Section 3AA schedule, which promises to be very tough again this season,” coach Joe Alexander said.  “Our key returning players this spring are PJ Johnson, Dylan Alexander and Jack Majerus, who all were on the All-Conference team last year.  Dylan was also selected All-Section 3AA and All-Area last year.

“Other returning players that will be counted on to contribute are juniors Nathan Dell, Ryland Martin, Alex Panitzke, Thomas Poegel, Austin Weber, Austin Ballhagen and Gavin Gain.  This group is being pushed every day by a very talented group of sophomores and freshmen, who have great skill sets and play the game at a very high level.”

During the Section 3AA Tourney last year, Minnewaska Area was seeded fifth and the Lakers beat the fourth-seeded NLS Wildcats in the opening round, 4-3.  In the second round, the Lakers fell to top-seeded Paynesville in a close game, 5-3 as the Bulldogs scored five runs from the fourth through sixth innings after Minnewaska had taken a  2-0 lead after three innings.

Facing elimination, the Lakers lost their next game against third-seeded ACGC, 3-2, at Montevideo.  The game was tied 1-1 through 4 1/2 innings before ACGC scored two in the fifth and the Lakers countered with one more run in the top-half of the sixth.  Minnewaska had the bases loaded in the first inning against ACGC and had two runners on base in the second inning, but couldn’t get any runs across either time.

Fairmont went on to beat Paynesville for the Section 3AA title, 2-1 and Fairmont, which was seeded first at state, went on to win the Class AA championship with wins over Sibley East (8-3), Rochester Lourdes (7-2) and Roseau (7-0).

This year’s roster

This year’s baseball roster for grades 9-12 includes senior PJ Johnson (if, c, p); juniors Dylan Alexander (c, if, of, p), Jack Majerus (of, p, if), Nathan Dell (if, p), Alex Panitzke (if, p), Thomas Poegel (if, c, p), Ryland Martin (if, of, p), Austin Weber (of, if, p), Austin Ballhagen (of, p) and Gavin Cain (if, p); sophomores Connor Frey (of, if, p), Jackson Holmes (if, p), Caden Larson (of, if, p), Oliver Rieland (c, if), Noah Jensen (c, if, of, p) and Levi Johnson (if, p); and ninth-graders AJ Svec, Jackson Marquardt, Tyson Metz, Oliver Vanderhagen, Conner Erickson, Ethan Jacobs, Tate Anderson, Ben Johnson, Riley Dell, Luke Danielson, Braylen Scharmer, Marc Gruber and Jacob Reuss.

Alexander led the team last year in hitting (.488 average) and on-base average (.577), while other top returning hitters include Majerus (batted .371 with an on-base percentage of .450), PJ Johnson (.283, .377), Nathan Dell (.256, .360) and Noah Jensen (.233, .320). 

•  Coach Alexander expects Morris, Melrose, Montevideo and Sauk Centre to field teams capable of winning the WCC title this year, while Fairmont, Luverne, Paynesville, NLS and Montevideo will be among the teams to beat on the way to the Section 3AA title.