Posted 4/04/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
When the Watford City Wolves baseball team takes to the field on Thursday to open their 2012 season, Justin Johnsrud, Wolves’ head coach, knows that it is going to be a rebuilding season. But even with a young team coming back, Johnsrud likes what he is seeing.
“We have 20 boys out for baseball this season with four returning seniors in Clay Billing, Lucas Nicholson, Shawn Fulwider and Jayden Grotte,” says Johnsrud. “They will need to be leaders for us this year as we have some holes to fill with the loss of last year’s senior class.”
Also returning to this year’s squad are juniors Nate Egeberg, Brandon Taylor and Davis Zubke and sophomores Mitchell Liebel and Brandon Allex. New players that will be vying for playing time are juniors Brice Brenno and Brandon Stoker and sophomore Andrew Sampsel, as well as four freshmen and a few junior high players.
Engeberg and Taylor are the top offensive leaders returning from last year’s team. Egeberg hit .426 last season with five doubles and 14 RBIs, while Taylor batted .421.
“We have been working hard to become better hitters,” says Johnsrud. “We will need to hit well this year to earn another State Tournament appearance.”
Areas of concern for Johnsrud this season will be inexperienced pitching and overall team speed.
“Lucas Nicholson was injured for most of last season with a broken ankle, but I look to him to be one of our go-to pitchers and a leader on the field,” says Johnsrud. “Our other pitchers will be Nate Egeberg, Brice Brenno, Andrew Sampsel, and Brandon Taylor.”
While Johnsrud acknowledges that there is little that he can do to improve the team’s quickness on the base path, the players will just have to be smarter at the plate while on base.
“Our team speed is down from last year so we will need to do a better job at the plate with runners on base,” says Johnsrud. “And defensively, we will be young in a few places and not real experienced on the mound.”
Lacking experienced pitchers, Johnsrud believes that if his team plays fundamentally sound baseball, the season will be promising.
“The approach will be the same,” states Johnsrud. “The pitchers need to throw strikes and our defense needs to make plays and limit extra bases by playing good fundamental baseball.”
But even with a young team, Johnsrud likes his chances of leading the Wolves to another State appearance.
“There will only be five teams in our region this year because Kenmare did not field a team,” states Johnsrud. “It will be an even region and will come down to who is playing the best baseball at the end of May.”