With three of their top four pitchers having graduated, and the possibility that catcher Nate Smolke may not be able to play defensively, the Brainerd Warriors baseball team enters the season with positions to fill.
Graduates Trevor Thompson, Nick Rardin and Ethan Branum were a combined 12-5 in 108-plus innings last season.
Smolke, a starter since his sophomore season and a two-time all-conference player, may only be able to hit because of a shoulder injury.
"Like any other year, we'll sink or swim with our pitchers," Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said. "I think (senior pitcher) Dan Bendzick's going to be just fine.
Returning starters for the Brainerd Warriors baseball team are Kyle Crocker (left), Nate Smolke, Desmond Janousek and Dan Bendzick. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We will probably sink or swim with our next two or three pitchers, whoever they are. Opposing hitters will tell us who our best pitchers are. They always do."
Bendzick, a right-hander, was 3-0 last season with a 1.64 ERA in 21.3 innings. He allowed 14 hits, struck out 18 and walked five.
"Dan pitched well the second half of last year, and pitched well last summer," Scearcy said. "He also played in a fall league, and had a good fall. We're hoping for good things from Dan. He's been throwing the ball very well. He also plays a little infield but he will be our No. 1 (pitcher)."
Smolke batted .352 as a junior, drove in 17 runs, had six doubles and two triples, and walked 10 times.
Head coach: Lowell Scearcy, 40th year (3 at Verndale, 37 at Brainerd)
Career record: 604-242 (.714)
Record at Brainerd: 566-234 (.708)
2008 record: 13-1 CLC, 18-5 overall.
Returning starters: Nate Smolke, Desmond Janousek, Dan Bendzick, Kyle Crocker.
Assistant coaches: Keith Peterson, Al Balsley, Jay Sannes, Kyle Holbrook, Tony Parrish, John Backlund.
2, at Bemidji 5 p.m.
7, Moorhead 5 p.m.
9, at Sauk Rapids 5 p.m.
14, at Willmar 5 p.m.
16, Fergus Falls 5 p.m.
21, at Sartell 5 p.m.
23, at St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.
24, at Princeton tournament 5 p.m.
25, at Princeton tournament 11:15 a.m.
28, Little Falls 4 p.m. (2)
30, Rocori 5 p.m.
5, at Alexandria 4 p.m. (2)
7, St. Cloud Apollo 5 p.m.
8, Grand Rapids 5 p.m.
12, at Fergus Falls 5 p.m.
14, Willmar 5 p.m.
19, Sauk Rapids 5 p.m.
"We've kind of given up on the fact Nate can catch this year," Scearcy said. "Maybe we're hopeful he will be able to play a little first base or outfield.
"His shoulder injury does not seem to affect his hitting. If we had to start today Nate would be our DH, and would be batting third."
Senior Desmond Janousek returns in center field. He batted .220, scored 12 runs, had three RBIs and walked eight times.
"Desmond is a very good defensive player," Scearcy said. "He's got a lot of speed and is a good baserunner. I'm not sure where we will bat him, either at the top of the order, or at the bottom. If he's at the bottom he would be like (Twins center fielder Carlos) Gomez where you use your No. 9 man as another leadoff man."
Junior Kyle Crocker is the fourth returning player. Last season he started at second base and led the team with a .419 average. He drove in 15 runs and stole eight bases on his way to all-conference honors. He also pitched eight innings with a 1-0 record.
"We'll bat Kyle at the head of the order," Scearcy said. "Some people think we should bat Kyle and Nate 3-4. If indeed they're our best hitters I want to see both of them bat in the first inning. We'll try to get both of them in the top three in the order.
"Like Desmond, Kyle's a very good baserunner. He'll probably be pitching once a week too. He has good control and a good breaking ball. We'll need somebody else to play short the days he pitches."
Three additional seniors have varsity experience. Third baseman Travis Whirley had four hits in 16 at bats and pitched an inning. Infielder Rob Veith was 4-for-17. First baseman Cody Stange was 7-for-30.
Scearcy said thanks to Brainerd's indoor facility the Warriors are able to prepare indoors better than many high school teams.
"We can see (the ball) really well this year because the new lights in the gym are great," he said. "It's making indoor practice much better and much safer for our kids.
"We've got a really good indoor facility. Sometimes we might practice at times that aren't conducive to families, especially the ones where kids don't have their driver's licenses yet, but we try to keep that to a minimum. But I still think having three floors and a batting cage is probably a lot better than maybe practicing every day at 3:30 p.m. but having a little tiny gym over at Franklin."
Scearcy said the Warriors will field a junior varsity again this season.
"A couple years ago Trevor Thompson pitched a couple times for the JV, then came on and was a two-time all-conference and all-state player before he finished," Scearcy said.
"JV, to us, is more than just a place for kids to play. That's important but it's also a place where we hope we're going to find more talent. If a player starts on the JV it doesn't necessarily mean that's where he's going to be."
Warriors by position
Catchers: Craig McCluney (jr), Reid Mimmack (jr)
First base: Cody Stange (sr), Nate Smolke (sr), Tate Rusk (jr), Burrell Flanagan (jr)
Second base: Rob Veith (sr), Joel Martin (jr), Jake Caughey (jr), Brett Jenkins (jr), Ethan Nichols (jr)
Shortstop: Kyle Crocker (jr), Jenkins, Caughey, Seth Helland (sr)
Third base: Travis Whirley (sr), Jenkins, Rusk, Mac Jones (jr), Jamie Quick (jr), Blake Jensen (jr)
Outfield: Desmond Janousek (sr), Thomas Fairbanks (jr), Rusk, Zach Voels (sr), Tyler Alters (sr), Michael Brekken (sr), Alex Rohde (jr), Jaron Hanson (jr), Seth Carter (jr), Matt Sather (jr), Trevor Howard (sr), Tate Heidmann (jr), Brandon Shaw (sr)
Pitchers: Dan Bendzick (sr), Trevor Howard (sr), Crocker, Martin, Jenkins, Helland, Caughey, Voels, Quick, Jones
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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