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Baseball: Experienced group back on the diamond for Wingers

There’s an air of familiarity surrounding the Red Wing baseball team this spring.

Familiar faces are dotted around the dirt and grass of the baseball diamond, with seven starters returning from last year’s 14-9 squad.

And, there’s that familiar hunger for the team after reaching the Section 1AAA final four and not advancing to the state tournament.

For the most part, the faces will stay the same in the dugout. The plan this spring is to not go down the familiar path in the postseason and advance out of the section.

“They saw what it takes to get to that next level,” said Wingers head coach Paul Hartmann. “It’s kind of nice to get a taste of it, getting to that section semifinals. Really, this is a group last year that did a lot of little things on and off the field that makes a good baseball team.

“We’re crisp right now. We don’t need to teach a lot of things, most of its review and refining some swings and making sure arms are healthy.”

The strengths remain the same for Red Wing: Defense and pitching.

In the field, the entire infield returns, with Teddy Lillico at catcher, Seth Morem at first base, Brodie Smith at second, Seth Yeatman at third and Zach Harding at short.

“Honestly, I think we had one of the best, if not the best infields in the Big Nine last year,” Smith said. “Returning all those guys is huge.”

And in the outfield, Tyler DeFore will resume his role in right field. The only spots with different players will be in left and center field, with Seth Cushing set to take over center from Tait Kelly. Looking to fill Sam Hanson’s vacant spot in left will be either senior David Howe or junior Grant Rolen.

“I’ve always been confident in Seth ever since I saw him as a ninth-grader on the VFW team,” Hartmann said. “David played a critical role for us as a designated hitter/pinch runner and had some huge at-bats for us. Grant Rolen has put in some time and put in some good at-bats this spring.”

Hartmann added, “One through nine defensively, I think we’re going to be very strong.”

Then on the mound, Teddy Tauer resumes his role as the team’s ace after going 6-1 last year with a 1.22 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 57 ⅓ innings. In the No. 2 spot is Ben Domagala, who was 3-1 last spring.

“We have a lot of guys returning and all of them can throw strikes,” Tauer said about the team’s pitching staff. “We have to make the other team put the ball in play and let our defense get to work.”

On offense, that’s where Red Wing looks to change its fortunes after a roller coaster-like 2016 season in the batter’s box.

“We won 14 games last year hitting .250 as a club. There aren’t too many teams that can say they did that,” Hartmann said.

The hope is with a year of strength and confidence building is enough to bulk up the Wingers’ offensive output, starting with Thursday’s season opener against Big Nine Conference opponent Owatonna.

“Our stats were below average last year. That just tells you we can still win having mediocre stats,” said DeFore, who is Red Wing’s top returning hitter after batting .322 with 12 RBI and 13 runs last year. “This year, it’s already looking better. We came to practice ready to play and I can really see a big increase with our stats this year and that’ll really benefit the win column.”

DeFore continued, “This time, we’re going to be ready to go. We all really want to get past that next level. We have a great coaching staff and players that really want to succeed when we get to the end of the year.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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