Posted 4/08/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
By now the Watford City High School baseball team should have had two games under their belt. But, thanks to a couple of late spring snows, the team wasn’t able to open its season as scheduled.
However, with temperatures finally warming and the baseball field now clear of snow, the Wolves are now finally ready to take to the field. The Wolves will host Dickinson Trinity at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 10 and then compete in the Shiloh Tournament on Friday and Saturday. Watford City will close out the week’s schedule with home games against Mohall on Monday and Ray on Tuesday.
And Justin Johnsrud is predicting good things for this year’s team even though he lost six seniors to graduation.
In spite of the loss, Johnsrud has 25 players out for this year’s baseball team including six returning starters, four of which were All-Region players last year.
“We have a great group of returning starters from last year’s Region 7 regular season championship team,” states Johnsrud. “Pitching should be our strength headed into the Region schedule as we have three of our top four pitchers from last year returning.”
Returning starters include Andrew Sampsel, Brandon Allex, Dakota Neether, Dustin Kleppen, Mitchell Liebel and Quayde Shores.
Also returning from last year’s team is Keegan Thompson and Brandon Roff.
According to Johnsrud, newcomers Trent Grimes, a senior, and David Kline, a junior, will fill in nicely around his six returning starters as the pair swing the bat well and have a good knowledge of the game.
“Our infield is pretty much intact from last season, but we will need to find replacements for the outfield,” states Johnsrud. “We are blessed with quite a few utility players who can play almost anywhere on the field. Some of them are going to need to develop into quality outfielders to round out our defense.”
But it will be Watford City’s pitching that Johnsrud believes could be the big difference in this year’s team.
“We had 16 wins last season and our returning pitchers were credited with 15 of those wins,” states Johnsrud. “We have six to eight pitchers that I am confident can go out and throw strikes, which is important in high school baseball. If you have pitchers that force teams to earn their way on base you can greatly reduce the number of runs you give up to opponents.”
While pitching is important, so is hitting the ball. And offensively, Johnsrud believes this team has the talent to generate runs.
“Our offense let us down last year,” states Johnsrud. “Last year we were undefeated during our shortened regular season but in the Region Tournament, we struggled at the plate. We gave up only one earned run in three games, but were only able to generate enough offense to win one of those three games.
According to Johnsrud, he along with Coach Pat Spacher have placed a lot of emphasis on hitting and the mental approach at the plate this preseason.
“If we can generate more offense at the plate this season, and our pitching continues to be strong, we will be a very tough team to beat,” predicts Johnsrud.
While Johnsrud has a solid core of returning players, this year’s squad will also have players who have never played high school ball.
“We have 11 players out this year that have not previously played high school baseball,” states Johnsrud. “Some have played Legion and Babe Ruth baseball in the summers for the past few years.”
Players rounding out Johnsrud’s roster are Jayden Vaupel, Jake Rogness, Dewey Purcel, Bo Cook, Kyle Cook, Andrew Reed, Heath Chaffin, Tyler Fara, Jamison Flynn, Preston Milstead, Jackson Voll, Jarek Hogue, and Hunter Neether.
“We have a lot of games scheduled this year in hopes to get more playing time. Hopefully, the weather cooperates and we are able to get more games than we did in our weather-shortened season last year. We had a two-week season in 2013 before the Region Tournament, and our underclassman only had a couple of games.”
According to Johnsrud, the Wolves will be one of the top teams in Region 7 this year as Trinity Christian/Trenton last season’s region champs will not be fielding a team this year due to low numbers.
However, Johnsrud expects the region to be competitive as Ray and Stanley have both added baseball to their high school spring sports calendars, while Lewis & Clark, DLB, and New Town are all back and Mohall/Lansford/Sherwood/Glenburn have added Kenmare and Bowbells to their co-op program.
“You can always count on L&C and DLB to have solid teams,” states Johnsrud. “I’m not too sure what to expect from Ray or Stanley, but in years past they have produced some really quality baseball teams in the summer. The new MLSGKB co-op could produce a very good baseball team as well.”