Seniors presence to lead Eagles

By Jim Bastian

Journal Sports Writer

NEW ULM – Experience will be a strength for the New Ulm baseball team this season.

The team has seven starters returning from last year’s team that finished 12-6 overall losing to Pipestone Area in the first round of the Section 3AA tournament.

“But we have no reason to dwell on how last season unexpectedly ended,” said coach Jay Backer. “It is a new season and a fresh start. We are moving forward with a positive attitude and setting our goals high.”

New Ulm has the firepower back to set the gold standard for 2014, with their two top pitchers in righthanders Tanner Kluis (4-1) and Chase Meyer (4-2).

The Eagles will have a familiar face behind the plate in catcher Grant Kannegiesser. Back at shortstop is Judd Davis who hit .250 last season. Outfielder Jackson Yackley (.281), first basemen Jarin Spence (.350) and Tyler Dittrich are also returning.

Last year, New Ulm hit .266 as a team.

“This experience will bode well for us,” Backer said.

Right now, Backer has penciled in Dittrich, Kannegiesser, Spence and junior Wyatt Oelberg at first base with Kluis and juniors Alex Stark and Bailey Batt at second base.

Senior Brach Kraus will start at third base and be backed up by Stark and juniors Matt Rowley and Andrew Stewart.

When Kannegiesser plays first base, junior Luke Irmiter will be behind the plate. Meyer, Yackley and senior Seanan Kelly along with juniors Wyatt Peterson, Connor Forbrook and Jesse Baumgartner will man the outfield.

After Kluis and Meyer on the mound, the pitching staff will be made up of Peterson, Stewart, Batt, Dittrich, Spence, Forbrook, Baumgartner and Rowley.

“Most of us have been working toward our senior year for four years,” said Kluis, who struck out 25 batters last season and had an ERA of 1.48. “All of the seniors are a great group of guys.”

Kluis said the team still has bad taste in its mouth from its quick exit from the 3AA tournament.

“Last year was tough,” Kluis said. “It is always tough when you end with a loss. We want to forget that but still have that in our heads to remember that feeling so it does not happen again.”

This season’s edition of the purple and white, Kluis said, is a strong team all around.

“We know that as pitchers we have to throw strikes, let the defense play,” Kluis said. “The offense will come.”

Kluis feels that one of the keys to the success of the Eagles will be how well the veterans and the newcomers mesh on the field.

“Most of us have been playing together for quite some time now we need to get used to the juniors,” Kluis said. “If we have good team chemistry, wins will come.”

Backer said he likes all three aspects of this year’s team in the hitting, pitching and defense.

“We should also be able to be aggressive on the base paths as we have relatively good team speed,” Backer said.

Backer said defending section champion Luverne is the preseason pick with New Ulm, Fairmont, Pipestone Area, Marshall and New London-Spicer as contending teams.

“We want to win the conference,” Kluis said. “We want to win the section and go to the state tournament and make some noise there. We want to go out with a bang this season.”

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