Central Lakes College Raiders baseball coaches Warren Mertens and Pat Held both noted how pleased they were after their team's first conference doubleheader this season.
The Raiders took both games from perennial Minnesota Community College Conference powerhouse Itasca 7-6 and 4-2. Through April 4, they were 4-2 overall.
If the early season start is any indication, CLC could be a team to beat in the Northern Division of the MCCC and should improve on last year's record of 11-15.
Mertens returns from a five-year absence of coaching. He took over a struggling program in 1991 and turned it into a winner. His 1993 team went 22-7 and was third at the state tournament, then the Raiders were 14-12 in 1994.
Head coach -- Warren Mertens, fifth year (1991-94, 2000)
CLC career record -- 45-66-1 (.405)
1999 record -- 10-14 North Division, 11-15 overall
Returning players -- Darren Prom (pitcher/third base), Nathan Huber (outfield), Derek Owen (catcher/first base), Matt Parker (pitcher/outfield), Joe Bruns (pitcher/first base), Justin Durham (outfield) and Reggie Litke (pitcher/outfield).
Assistant coaches -- Pat Held, Bruce Ericson
(1 p.m. doubleheaders unless noted)
(Home games at Mills Field)
23-at Mesabi, noon
2-at Fergus Falls
9-ST. JOHN'S JV
12-13 Region 13 playoffs, TBA
20-22 State Tournament
"I'm optimistic," Mertens said. "We have some great potential if we can stay focused and intense. I love coaching and we've got a great bunch of guys on this team."
Mertens is a former professional pitcher who played Class AA ball for the Minnesota Twins.
"He brings so much knowledge from his experience," said sophomore catcher Derek Owen, who hit .340 and led the team with three home runs last year. "He knows so much about things like baserunning and what to do in certain situations. He knows every aspect of the game."
Owen is one of many big bats the Raiders will send to the plate in 2000. CLC recorded 22 runs and 29 hits in its first doubleheader of the season against the St. John's University junior varsity. Then the Raiders pounded out 12 hits and scored 11 runs in one game the next day against Anoka-Ramsey.
CLC returns five other position players who all expect to contribute. Darren Prom returns at third base, Joe Bruns at first base and Nate Huber, Matt Parker, Justin Durham and Reggie Litke in the outfield.
Litke hit .350 with two home runs last spring, while Prom, Huber and Bruns were also .300 hitters for the Raiders. Huber was named to the All-Region 13 team.
"We have the ability to be explosive offensively, but we'll have to continue working defensively," said Mertens, whose team committed five errors in two different games through its first six contests. "How consistent our pitchers can be will also determine our success."
The pitching may turn out to be a surprise. Prom, Bruns, Litke and freshman Nathan Heim all threw well in the home opener against Itasca. Heim, from Kelliher, allowed no earned runs in four innings against Itasca to claim his second victory of the young season.
Also expected to contribute on the pitching staff will be Parker and freshmen Eric Lins (2B), Jacob Volk (3B), Derek Denny (infield), Justin Schmitz (third base) and Fred Mills (outfield).
Additional candidates for CLC will be sophomore infielder Nic Hanson and freshmen Adam Marthaler (catcher), Mike Innes (outfield), Russ Jude (catcher/outfield), Terry Simon (first base/designated hitter) and Joey Hendrickson (outfield).
"The difference between this year and last year are the sophomores," Owen said. "We've got a good group of both sophomores and freshmen. All-around we're solid."
Reggie Litke (Onamia), Nic Hanson (Brainerd), Joe Bruns (Maple Lake), Justin Durham (Pequot Lakes), Darren Prom (Brainerd), Nate Huber (Brainerd), Derek Owen (Brainerd), Matt Parker (Brainerd).
Eric Lins (Roseau), Jacob Volk (Pine River-Backus), Adam Marthaler (Sauk Centre), Mike Innes (Brainerd), Nathan Heim (Kelliher), Russ Jude (Annandale), Derek Denny (Bertha-Hewitt), Fred Mills (Albany), Terry Simon (Wadena-Deer Creek), Justin Schmitz (Kimball), Joey Hendrickson (Lester Prairie).
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