The Central Lakes College Raiders baseball team took a trip to the NJCAA Division III national tournament in New York last season. The Raiders came home with a fifth-place finish and a few All-Americans.
Nate Huber and Reggie Litke are the All-Americans that Raiders head coach Warren Mertens will be trying to replace this season. He will have other holes to fill, too as second baseman-pitcher Nate Heim of Kelliher is the only returning starter from last year's squad.
Lack of experience can mean problems but, if you're an optimist, youth can also mean promise. That's the position Mertens is taking.
"We'll be young in game experience," said Mertens, "but I feel we have some strong returning sophomores who will contribute quality leadership to enhance the talented group of freshmen who are coming into the program. We have many good players this year so I think we can hold our own."
Head coach -- Warren Mertens, sixth year (1991-94, 2000-01)
CLC career record -- 74-76-1 (.493)
2000 record -- 19-5 North Division, 29-10 overall, Region 13 champions, NJCAA Division III national tournament participant
Returning players -- Nate Heim (second base-pitcher).
Assistant coaches -- Pat Held, Bruce Ericson
(1 p.m. doubleheaders unless noted.)
28-at Fergus Falls
11-13 Region 13A at Willmar, TBA
17-19 MCCC State tournament at Willmar, TBA
Newcomers include four who played at Brainerd High School. Matt Yde will see duty on the mound and in the outfield. Eric Bolt will pitch and play third base. Nick Dircks can play second base and pitch. And, Ben Houle will catch and also see playing time in center field.
Mertens expects CLC will field enough solid bats to be productive offensively. Pitching is another matter.
"We have the ability to have right- or left-handed hitting in most positions," he said. "Team speed will also be one of our strengths. We are young and inexperienced and have no left-handed pitchers. That might be a weakness. As always, our goal is to win the conference and then see what we can do in the region, state or national tournament."
Last season, the Raiders compiled a 21-5 record in the Minnesota Community College Conference North Division. To improve upon that this year, the Raiders will have to find players in their freshman crop who can step up and deliver, players who, even though inexperienced, can break into the lineup and play at the collegiate level now.
Additional varsity candidates include:
Sophomores -- Adam Marthaler (catcher) of Sauk Centre, Derek Denny (pitcher-infield) of Hewitt, Justin Schmitz (pitcher-third base) of Kimball, Joey Hendrickson (outfield) of Lester Prairie, Dustin Mertens (pitcher-outfield) of Roseau, Russ Jude (catcher) of Annandale, Kirk Beebout (outfield) of Gray, S.D.
Freshmen -- Kevin Hoppe (shortstop) of Holdingford, Brent Lieser (infield/pitcher) of Browerville, James Freese (pitcher/third base) of Crosby-Ironton, Nate Kub (outfield) of Brainerd, Eric Reimann (outfield) of North Branch, Ted Morgan (first base) of Braham, John Pohlkamp (pitcher-second base) of Pierz, Jeremiah Lashinski (pitcher-infield) of South Haven, Andy Howie (pitcher-infield) of Northfield, Greg Pohlkamp (catcher-third base) of Pierz, Tony Schmidt (outfield) of Harris, Jacob Volk (third base) of Pine River-Backus.
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