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Niemi wants to make baseball a priority at Red Lake

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sports Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Red Lake coach Jason Niemi is trying to make baseball a priority in Red Lake and, slowly but surely, he appears to be accomplishing that task.

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"We have 14 kids out for the high school team and 19 on the middle school team," Niemi said. "Our numbers are getting stronger. The kids are vested in baseball now and that's very positive for the program."

The increased interest in baseball has translated into victories for the varsity and Niemi expects that trend to continue.

"We went nine years without a baseball win at Red Lake but last spring we won four games," Niemi said. "This year we would like to improve on that number. Finishing .500 is a lofty goal but I think it is realistic."

The Warriors opened their season Tuesday against Bagley and today they will visit Kelliher-Northome.

The home schedule also includes games against Nevis (April 19), Blackduck (April 25), WHA (May 5) and K-N (May 6).

Red Lake will also visit Laporte, Cass Lake-Bena, Lake of the Woods, Bagley, Pine River and Blackduck.

Headlining Red Lake's roster are senior infielder Dave Donnell, senior outfielder Terry Harris and junior catcher Travis Graumen. Also expected to be team leaders are sophomore outfielder Joey McNeal and sophomore pitcher Matt Johnson.

"Defense and hitting will be our strengths," Niemi said. "I don't think we will have much power or pitching depth but we do have batters who can get on base."

Donnell has been on the varsity since seventh grade and has developed into a player who can play at the next level.

"Dave has schools looking at him and it's nice to have a player from Red Lake who can play college baseball," Niemi said.

The rebuilding of the Laporte baseball team continues this year as coach Randy Reimer was welcomed by 19 candidates in grades nine through 12.

"Of those 19 about 12 are returning lettermen," the coach said. "We didn't have a senior last year and this year we have only one and we are bringing back the entire team. That experience will help us rebuild the program."

Chace Reimer is that returning senior and the shortstop/pitcher has many years under his belt.

The junior cast includes Garrett Forseth (OF), Adam Reed (IF/OF), Sean Alia (SS/P), Chase Holland (IF/OF) and Cody Rusch (OF).

The sophomore roster includes Dylan Smith (C), Matt Moss (IF/P) and Stephan Stinar (DH) while Kyle Kerby (IF) and Jared Miller (CF) are the freshmen returners.

Also expected to see action is eighth grader Austin Moss (IF/P).

The Panthers are no stranger to success on the baseball diamond but they still are trying to find a way to win the big prize.

"We've been to the section tournament the past four years and in the section championship game two years in a row," said CL-B coach Ken Wittner. "But we haven't been able to finish the job. Hopefully we'll put ourselves in position again this year and this time get it done."

A year ago the Panthers posted an unbeaten regular season and continued their winning ways through the conference, sub-section and section playdowns. The winning streak stretched to 25 games before ending with a loss to Fosston in the 8A title game.

With an all-conference selection and three honorable mention picks on this year's roster, Cass Lake-Bena seems ready to challenge once again for a state trip.

Senior pitcher/shortstop Chad Wittner is the all-conference player while the honorable mention picks are senior Taylor Humphrey (P/C), junior Jake Ellis (IF) and junior Caleb Fisher (P/SS).

Also back are senior Bryan Vail (OF), junior Wesley Moe (P/IF) and junior Ben Ruzek (IF).

Among those new to the program are senior David Tyndall (OF) and junior Ryan Erickson (OF).

"We return four pitchers and I think that will be a strength," Wittner said. "We also return some power in Caleb and Jake and, overall, we are an experienced team.

Among the other sophomores vying for playing time are Jordan Collins (OF), Anthony Swanholm (IF), Kenny Cloud (IF) and Dillon Bruns (OF). The freshmen candidates include Daven Staples (utility), Joe Ellis (IF), Nick Rairdon (IF), Brendon Humphrey (IF), Danny Fredrickson (OF) and Eric Jones (OF).

A team that can implement the basics of baseball can have success on the field, especially at the high school level.

And Blackduck coach Richard Olhava is stressing that concept to his players.

"We try to do the fundamental things correctly, such as bunting, stealing, playing good defense and using the hit and run," Olhava said. "We're not the type of club that will put three or four balls out of the park but we are the type that will manufacture runs."

The coach was greeted by 24 varsity candidates and the average of six per grade is what Olhava likes to see. Our junior high program also has 23 kids out so our program is strong.

"We lost only one senior starter from last year and we return 85 percent of our players," Olhava said. "Last year we won the North Division of the conference and lost 3-1 to Cass Lake-Bena in the North vs. South playoff. Over the past couple of years we've had success against all the teams but Cass Lake-Bena and this year we'll try to change that."

Among the team leaders are seniors Michael Dexter (P/C), Luke Binkley (OF/P) and Brandon Beck (IF). The junior cast includes Cody Bergquist (P/OF), Lucas Krabbenhoft (P/IF) and Aaron Nissen (IF) while the sophomores include Shane Fenske (IF) and Dylan Weisert (OF).

Also expected to contribute this year is freshman Trey Volk (IF).

An experienced pitching staff and improved offense should help the Bagley baseball team improve upon last year's 7-14 record.

"Our pitching staff is coming back and we hope to improve our batting average," said Bagley coach Mark Moll.

Forming the backbone of the mound staff are seniors Logan Dahl, Zach Carlson and Cole Young plus sophomore Jesse Dukek. Junior Austin Bellefy also was expected to see innings but he will undergo shoulder surgery and will miss at least part of the season.

"Logan, Zach, Cole and Jesse all have experience," Moll said. "None of them are overpowering but I'm looking for them to have success."

Offensively the Flyers compiled a team batting average of .300 last spring and Moll is hoping to see that figure climb.

"Last year's most valuable player, Tal Iverson, hit .400 and he is a senior this year," Moll said.

In 2010 Bagley won a sub-section play-in game but fell to eventual section champion Fosston in the opening round.

Moll hopes to see the Flyers improve on that finish and also challenge for the conference championship.

The Kelliher-Northome baseball team features a mix of youth and experience and coach Dan Alto hopes that combination will guide the Mustangs to a successful campaign.

"We have a young team but we do have quite a bit of experience," Alto said.

Among the returning players are seniors Evan Nelson and Jacob Gunderson. The junior cast includes Joe Schuh, Jeff Roosdett and Lance Pink while Christian Jourdan, Tim Davison and Justin Lindley are the returning sophomores.

Also back is eighth-grader Nathan Anderson.

Among the new players expected to contribute are eighth-graders Adrian Pink and Dylan Villaran.

"We were 8-11 last season and hope to build upon last year's strong finish," Alto said. "We need to make the plays that we should make defensively and put the ball in play while at bat."

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

The Kelliher-Northome baseball team features a mix of youth and experience and coach Dan Alto hopes that combination will guide the Mustangs to a successful campaign.

"We have a young team but we do have quite a bit of experience," Alto said.

Among the returning players are seniors Evan Nelson and Jacob Gunderson. The junior cast includes Joe Schuh, Jeff Roosdett and Lance Pink while Christian Jourdan, Tim Davison and Justin Lindley are the returning sophomores.

Also back is eighth-grader Nathan Anderson.

Among the new players expected to contribute are eighth-graders Adrian Pink and Dylan Villaran.

"We were 8-11 last season and hope to build upon last year's strong finish," Alto said. "We need to make the plays that we should make defensively and put the ball in play while at bat."

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

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