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Blue Anchors focus on pitching

Blue Anchors pitcher Spencer Koopmans goes into his delivery during a game against Wisconsin Rapids on August 8, 2013. Koopmans has signed to be back with Alexandria this summer to pitch in the NWL. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

What does a team do after fielding one of the league’s worst pitching staffs?

Focus on finding some improved arms. That is what the Blue Anchors front office has done this winter after the team wrapped up the 2013 schedule by giving up the second-most earned runs in the Northwoods League with a total of 441. The Alexandria front office took last season’s struggles into consideration while building the upcoming season’s roster.

“We’ve made a really conscientious effort to strengthen our pitching staff, given the dimensions of Knute Nelson Memorial Park,” Blue Anchors co-owner Scott Allen said. “A lot of what we’ve done has been with that in mind, to bring in guys that are weekend starters at a number of colleges who are hopefully able to compete well in our park and in the Northwoods League.”

While the Blue Anchors pitching staff struggled in 2013, offense was its strength. Alexandria was second among Northwoods League teams after collecting 691 hits in 70 games last season.

“Last year’s pitching staff obviously wasn’t the mark of the team, while hitting kind of led the team,” Blue Anchors General Manager Kendall Hughson said. “We tried to address the pitching staff, find some pitchers that can come in and throw good innings for the team.”

One returning starting pitcher from last season who has the front office excited is Spencer Koopmans. Through five starts this spring at the University of California-Davis, Koopmans has two wins and a 3.04 earned run average.

“He really proved himself in a tough environment last year, in a tough ballpark,” Allen said about his time at Knute Nelson ballpark.

One newcomer the Blue Anchors hopes will improve the starting pitching staff is Steve Naemark of Cochise College. After graduating high school in 2008, Naemark took some time off from baseball and worked a few years in fast food. But he returned to the game last season as a freshman at Cochise College and was named the Most Outstanding Pitcher at the Junior College World Series.

“He’s doing really well. It’s one of those neat stories,” Allen said.

A lot of the success for the pitching staff this season will be determined by the health of its players. When the current Blue Anchors owners acquired the team last spring, the roster was mostly set for the season. But they experienced a setback during the college season when a handful of the Blue Anchors’ pitchers suffered arm injuries and were unable to play.

“It’s hard to tell what we could have had with our pitching staff, but we had three weekend starters go down during the college season that really depleted our staff,” Allen said.

The Blue Anchors are hoping the offseason signings will once again produce a productive offense. One returning player that has created some excitement in the Blue Anchors’ front office is University of Iowa outfielder Kris Goodman. In 2013, Goodman picked up 79 hits in 256 at bats for a .309 average in Alexandria.

“Look for more of the same from him,” Hughson said.

Brooklyn Center’s Nehwon Norkeh is another outfielder that Hughson is excited to see on the field this season. Norkeh has hit for a .263 average through 25 games this season for Angelo State University, and leads the team in runs scored with 26.

A few of the Blue Anchors’ position players are off to slow starts in their college seasons, Hughson said, with many batting averages hovering around the .250 mark. But he feels the team should be competitive every night this summer.

“Not spectacular numbers but it’s still early in their season, and they will hopefully be able to turn it around,” Hughson said. “We’re very happy with where the team is sitting right now.”

Many of the Blue Anchors are expected to begin arriving in Alexandria toward the end of May, depending on the success of their college teams. The season schedule starts for the Blue Anchors against the Mankato MoonDogs on May 27 at Knute Nelson Memorial Park.

“I think it’s going to be a fun season, and an exciting season for the fans,” Allen said.

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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