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Baseball: Lakers reload their pitching as new players emerge

Joe Alexander takes over as head coach for Minnewaska baseball.

Dalton Friedrichs
Minnewaska's Dalton Friedrichs watches the pitcher as he gets off first base during a game against Spectrum on May 8, 2021. Friedrichs is one of six seniors on the Minnewaska baseball team's roster this season as he looks to help lead the Lakers to another winning spring after going 13-10 a year ago.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

There will be some new faces stepping into the lineup for the Minnewaska baseball team this spring, and that will be especially true within the pitching staff.

The Lakers featured a talented trio atop the mound last season in Darion Alexander, Aaron Ver Steeg and Mitchell Gruber. They were part of a group of nine seniors who Minnewaska will try to replace this season under the leadership of first-year head coach Joe Alexander.

“This group has a lot of baseball experience and knowledge, but has not logged a lot of innings at the varsity level,” Alexander said. “Many have had an exceptional offseason in the weight room and batting cage. If we can correlate their physical strength and athleticism to baseball fundamentals, we will see a lot of growth this season and will be a formidable opponent each time we are on the field.”

Joe Alexander is taking over the program from Brian Gruber. Gruber worked as the Lakers’ head coach for 10 seasons, accumulating a 137-105 record after Minnewaska finished 13-10 overall a year ago.

This year’s Minnewaska team does have five guys back with some level of varsity experience. Seniors Jacob Blair, Hunter Johnson and Torii Johnson, junior PJ Johnson and sophomore Dylan Alexander will be leaned on to provide some leadership.

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Joe Alexander sees seniors Logan Rood and Keygan Cruz, and juniors Jack Larson, Conner Stein and Cole Baker as newcomers who could make an impact on varsity.

“Our sophomore and freshman classes are loaded with talent and great work ethic,” Alexander said. “A number of them will, no doubt, make a strong push to see varsity innings, as well.”

Alexander said team speed and defense should keep the Lakers in games and put pressure on opponents.

“If we can get on base at a high rate, our speed will allow us to be aggressive on the base paths and put our guys in position to drive in a lot of runs,” Alexander said.

On the mound, Alexander is ready to see how a new wave of pitchers will fill out the rotation in starting and reliever roles. Jacob Blair, Torii Johnson, Hunter Johnson, Keygan Cruz, PJ Johnson, and Conner Stein are all guys who figure to be in the running to help out.

“Our focus leading up to the season will be on hitting and finding a strong pitching rotation,” Alexander said. “The majority of our success in these two areas last season came from a very strong 2021 class. Replacing the arms and bats of guys like Darion Alexander, Aaron Ver Steeg, and Mitchell Gruber will be a very steep challenge, but it is our focus to get as close as possible.”

BOLD, Melrose, Morris and Montevideo are teams Alexander sees as top contenders in the West Central Conference. Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Paynesville and Morris should all field good teams during the Section 3AA playoffs.

The Lakers are coming off of a good summer season down into their youth programs that included the Glenwood-Lowry Legion baseball team making the Division II state tournament. Minnewaska hopes to build on that now as the spring season gets going.

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“Our focus is to continue to build momentum off our two state tournament appearances and one state championship last summer,” Alexander said. “Our players have bought into our style of baseball and are working very hard under a very talented and dedicated coaching staff that includes Chris Lence, Jesse Johnson, Andy Goracke, Ryan Christianson and Joe Heidelberger, who are all assisting me this season, as well as coaching JV, C squad, 7th and

8th-grade levels. Our goal this season will be to play the great game of baseball at a high level, with great passion and sportsmanship, while having a whole lot of fun.”

2022 MINNEWASKA BASEBALL

COACHES - Head coach - Joe Alexander - first season; Assistant coaches - Chris Lence, Jesse Johnson, Andy Goracke, Ryan Christianson, Joe Heidelberger

SENIORS - Jacob Blair; Torii Johnson, Hunter Johnson, Dalton Friedrichs, Logan Rood, Keygan Cruz; JUNIORS - PJ Johnson, Jack Larson, Conner Stein, Blake Andreas, Cole Baker, Dalton Peterson; SOPHOMORES - Dylan Alexander, Jack Majerus, Nathan Dell, Austin Ballhagen, Alex Panitzke, Ryland Martin, Thomas Poegel, Austin Weber, Gavin Cain, Mason Reichmann, Jonah Walling, Bode Dezelar, Jacob Lundebrek

FRESHMEN - Levi Johnson, Noah Jensen, Caden Larson, Connor Frey, Owen Meulebroeck , Oliver Rieland, Jackson Holmes, Brady McCrory, Zach Gugisberg, Lucas Tauber, Kyler Sack, Lucky Hippe, Hunter Von Felden

MINNEWASKA BASEBALL SCHEDULE

April 5 at Redwood Valley. 5 p.m.

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April 7 at Sauk Centre, 5 p.m.

April 8 vs ACGC, 4:30 p.m.

April 12 at BOLD, 5 p.m.

April 19 vs Morris Area, 4 p.m.

April 21 vs West Central Area, 5 p.m.

April 22 vs Montevideo, 5 p.m.

April 25 at New London Spicer, 4:30 p.m.

April 26 Benson, 4 p.m.

May 3 at West Central Area, 5 p.m.

May 5 vs Sauk Centre, 5 p.m.

May 6 at Osakis, 4:30 p.m.

May 10 vs Melrose Area, 4 p.m.

May 12 vs BOLD, 5 p.m.

May 14 vs Fergus Falls. 1 p.m.

May 17 at Melrose Area, 5 p.m.

May 19 at Montevideo, 5 p.m.

May 20 vs Paynesville Area, 4:30 p.m.

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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