It’s no secret that the Pilot Grove Tigers baseball team is still stinging from last year’s loss to the New Franklin Bulldogs in the finals of the district tournament.
With the two teams more than likely to butt heads again this season in the district championship, head coach Clint Poulsen said the 2013 season is about like any year. He said the Tigers expect to win the conference and get one of the top seeds in the district tournament.
With 20 players suited out for the 2013 season, Poulsen will have the luxury of returning five starters and seven letterwinners from the fall and spring, which finished 9-3 and 15-6, respectively.
“We have gone 24 years without a district championship and the goal like every year is to hang a new banner,” Poulsen said. “Outside of those long-term goals, our main goal is to work hard in practice every day. We want to improve our game and have focus on what needs to be accomplished right here, right now.”
The Tigers will also set their sights on another conference title this spring. Poulsen said right now as it stands, the Prairie Home Panthers can beat anyone with Trever Huth on the mound and Otterville has a solid team behind their No. 1 pitcher Ryan Benny.
“I know Jamestown is very young and Bunceton has some experience,” Poulsen said. “Higbee has struggled through losing some key players otherwise I think they would be right there toward the top as well. Even though we played all of these schools in the fall, you just never know who has worked hard and improved or even transferred in or out of any given school so it can be fairly wide open.”
As for the strengths of the team this spring, Poulsen said when compared to most teams in their class the Tigers will have some quality depth in pitching and on the bench. He said the Tigers will also have a handful of guys that would start for other teams in the conference, but because of having so many players coming out for baseball they have to continue to work hard and be ready to play at any moment.
“With injuries and other things that happen throughout a season you always have to be ready to come into the game,” stated Poulsen. “Another strength is our pitching. We have Trenton Young leading our staff, but another 6-7 quality arms behind him who are working hard to improve their game as well. I also think our hitting and team speed will be a big asset this season as well.”
Although the Tigers have plenty of old faces from last year, Poulsen said the biggest weakness right now on the team is complacency. He said with the success the Tigers have had in the regular season it is sometimes easy for these teenagers to just drift through the regular season.
“We have to come out each and every game with intensity like it is the playoffs,” Poulsen said. “We also need to play solid defensively to support our pitching staff. The last thing is finding a consistent lineup, because we have some competition going on for some spots on the field.”
The team goals for the season are also simple. Poulsen said he wants the team to play smart and hustle all the time. He said if the team gives their best effort every game and think the game of baseball, then everything else will fall into place from there.
The unquestionable leader on the mound this season for the Tigers is no secret. After finishing 5-2 with an ERA of 2.17 last spring and 4-0 in the fall with an ERA of 1.06, Poulsen said junior Trenton Young has worked even harder in the off-season to develop his secondary pitches and get consistent location.
“The loss to New Franklin in district last year is still not sitting well with him,” Poulsen said. “After Trenton, we had Derek Zeller slated to be our No. 2 guy but a broke wrist will keep him out this season and end his career. Alex Twenter and Regan Meisenheimer will also see some time on the mound. Twenter is a strong lefty with a lot of movement. Alex just has to get consistent with his location. He was 1-0 in the fall with an ERA of 4:37 in eight innings. As for Regan, he has impressed me with good control and can mix up his off-speed well. Regan was also 1-0 in the fall with an ERA of 1.40 in 10 innings.”
Poulsen said beyond Young, Twenter and Meisenheimer, the Tigers will have a group of guys that will pitch some innings.
“We’re just not sure how they will sort out beyond that,” Poulsen said. “Seniors Sean Lorenz, Trevor Day and Kendall Kraus all have pitched some for us in the past and will do so again this spring. Sophomore Jake Leverton is back with us after taking the fall off. Freshmen Jacob Twenter, Jon Gerke, Grant Vollrath and Clemence Twenter could all see time as well.”
The Tigers will also return with experience at the catcher position this season. Poulsen said Kraus will bring vocal leadership, a strong arm and a big bat to the table. Behind him will be Jon Gerke, Jared Twenter and Isaac Lorenz.
“If Kendall pitches we will rely on these guys to pick up the catching slack,” Poulsen said. “Each has his own strengths and weaknesses. We’ll just have to see how they sort themselves out.”
On the infield, Poulsen said junior Grant Felten was the slated starter but he is out indefinitely so the battle right now is between Jacob Twenter, Alex Twenter and Jake Leverton. Poulsen said Jacob Twenter is a little more ahead with the glove, but Alex Twenter gives the team more pop in the lineup.
“Jake is still shaking off the dust and getting his timing back, but had some good moments for us last spring as a freshman,” Poulsen said. “All three guys can also play the outfield so one of them may slot into there as well.”
At second base, Poulsen said depending on who is pitching Regan Meisenheimer has been the most consistent with the glove and bat so far this spring, but Keaton Vollrath is rapidly improving and pushing for playing time as well. He said behind them is senior Donnovan Sturguess, who has a very quick bat and some pop as well. “He hasn’t played in a few years and Jared Twenter can play second when he isn’t behind the plate catching,” Poulsen said. “Grant Vollrath is a freshman that works hard and is improving as well at second.”
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As for the left side of the infield, Poulsen said senior Trevor Day will be moving over from second base where he has spent his first-three years at Pilot Grove. Poulsen said Day is a slick fielding, smart baseball player and does a good job of hitting the ball to all fields. “When Trevor pitches Regan will be backing him up and freshman Clemence Twenter will be playing some shortstop as well,” Poulsen said.
Rounding out the infield for the Tigers at third base is is senior Aaron Waibel. Poulsen said although Waibel is battling some back issues, he will give the Tigers a strong arm and quick glove at third. “If Aaron needs to be spelled or goes to the mound, then Jon Gerke is the backup there,” said Poulsen. “Jon is solid and with some added arm strength will make a good third baseman. Alex Cooper and possibly Donnovan will also see time there.”
As for the outfield, Poulsen said senior Sean Lorenz is the captain. While making the move from left to center, Poulsen said Lorenz brings speed and his throwing arm to the center position. After him, Poulsen said the Tigers will have some shuffling going on depending on who is pitching.
“Darrin Kammerich brings a lot of speed and quickness to the outfield,” Poulsen said. “Alex Twenter will also be in the mix, with some power from the left side of the plate and strong arm. When Trenton isn’t pitching he will be in the outfield as well. Behind that group we will have Isaac Lorenz, who is young but brings athleticism to our team, Jake Leverton, who has some experience from last year, Kori Marshall, who is joining us from the softball team, and Ben Glenn, who is young but improving every day.”