The Tigers return just three regulars after losing nine seniors to graduation, but head coach Jon Graff is still excited and optimistic that there are some players among his 21 upperclassmen who are ready to make an impact for the varsity squad.
“Our overall numbers are getting bigger, so there’s more talent at every level and it’s not quite as tough to replace the people we lost,” said Graff, whose Tigers had their best season in several years last spring, finishing 11-9. “Any time you turn over like we are it’s an opportunity and the guys get the chance they’ve worked for. Every year there are surprises and somebody steps up and claims it.”
Graff is relying on his three senior captains — Parker Holmstrom, Bobby Eckert and Austin Martinsen — to set an example for his group of newcomers.
Holmstrom hit .382 out of the leadoff spot and served as one of the team’s top pitchers, earning four wins and posting a 2.03 ERA in 38 innings. He’ll pitch at Winona State next year. Eckert (.267) will likely take over as the full-time catcher after platooning between catcher and third base last season, and Martinsen pitches, and can play first base and outfield. The left-hander led the team with eight doubles and 15 RBI.
Other seniors trying to win a spot in the coming weeks are crafty right-handed pitcher Maverick Carlson, outfielder Carter Blomster and infielders Andrew Lupkowski and Nathan Kraml.
Fourteen juniors are competing for spots on the varsity and JV rosters at tryouts this week, including Dylan Bergstad, who saw some varsity time as a sophomore last spring. Bergstad throws hard and could see time both on the mound and in the outfield, according to Graff. Left-hander Justin King is another candidate to pitch some varsity innings and fellow juniors Christian Groves, Max Barthel and Jake Laube could all vie for at bats.
“We’ve got a few guys who are athletic and could play some outfield, but with Bobby (Eckert) moving in to catch and with Parker pitching, our infield is really wide open at every spot,” Graff said. “The guys are improving and pushing each other.”
The Tigers make their debut in the South Suburban Conference at home Monday, April 6, against Prior Lake. Graff expects it to be the first of many challenging games, regardless of who he fills into his lineup card.
“The Missota was a good conference, but the South Suburban top to bottom is deeper and stronger,” he said. “They’re definitely ready for it. Not one person has said they wish we were still in the Missota. It’s our time to go and make some noise.”