Posted Online: March 12, 2012, 9:57 pm
Rockets look to keep soaring after last year's Elite Eight flight
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By Terry Duckett, firstname.lastname@example.org
Having broken even during the 2011 West Central North baseball season, the Rockridge Rockets cashed in handsomely during the second season.
Photo: Gary Krambeck|
Rockridge High School baseball player Cody Hinson (12) rounds third base during last season's Regional Championship game against Macomb. Hinson is among Rockridge's top returning players this season.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood|
Sherrard's Jake Friichtenicht safely gets back to first base as Rockridge's Jacob McManus waits for the ball during early innings at Rockridge High School Thursday afternoon.
"We always say our goal is to play our best at the end of the season, and we certainly did that last year," said Rockridge coach Glen Cook, whose squad caught fire behind the pitching of Cody Hinson and Chase DeKeyrel and blazed its way into the Class 2A Elite Eight.
Further motivated by the way their postseason run ended — with a 4-3 super-sectional loss to Erie-Prophetstown in the final inning — the Rockets (19-7 in '11) hope to take the next step and fly down to Peoria behind a nucleus of eight returning letterwinners, including their entire pitching staff.
"Potentially, I think we can hit better than last year's team," said Cook, who returns a triple threat in pitcher/outfielder Hinson (7-3 record, 1.02 ERA; .341 batting average with 19 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs) along with senior infielder Sage Wetteland (.423, 10 doubles, 16 RBIs), but also has to replace six key members of last year's team.
"I'm not saying we're not going to miss a beat here and there, but the program is in good shape right now, and I fully expect us to be a good team by the end of the year. I believe that with all my heart, we'll be right there at the end of the season."
As for the WCC North race, Cook points to the Rockets' rivals from Sherrard (11-15) as being the potential team to beat. The Tigers return seven veterans, a group led by senior pitcher/outfielder Jake Friichtenicht (.443, 11 extra-base hits, 15 RBIs and 30 runs), although like Rockridge, several key producers were lost to graduation.
"We graduated quite a few seniors, but most of our playing time and production came from last year's juniors and sophomores," said Sherrard coach Sean McCollum, whose club fell to Rockridge in the regional finals. "We've got a lot of guys back with varsity experience, and I expect those guys to help teach and carry the younger players this season."
Like McCollum, another Sherrard prep enters the WCC North coaching ranks as Alex Johnson takes the reins from Dylan Cross at Orion, inheriting a Charger club that went 11-16 but advanced to the Class 1A regional finals.
"This conference has good tradition, and it's good to get back and go against these teams again," said Johnson, who had served under Kirk Fristad as an assistant coach for Kewanee the last three seasons. "Going up against some very competitive teams helps get you ready for the postseason."
Looking to take the next step is Monmouth-Roseville (12-14), where former Moline prep Chris Schwarz begins his second season with such standouts as senior pitcher/outfielder Drew Cole (4-4 on the mound; batted .284 with 16 RBIs), but also having to replace several departed starters.
"We were definitely senior-dominated last year," said Schwarz, "but when things shook out the way they did, our best pitcher was a freshman in Dalton Hottle, and get him and Drew back. We're going to be young, but talented."
WEST CENTRAL NORTH BASEBALL CAPSULES
- Coach: Chris Schwarz (second year)
- 2011: 12-14 (4-6 WCC North)
- Returning letterwinners — Srs.: Drew Cole (P/CF), Jackson Kane (SS), Troy Pettet (OF) Jrs.: Tanner Woods (2B), Skyler Goodwin (OF) Soph.: Dalton Hottle (P/OF), Dillon Frieden (P/3B)
- Newcomers -- Sr.: Dakota Wilson (OF) Jrs.: Blake Bichsel (1B), Bernardo Marquez (1B), Nick Hart (IF) Fr.: Cody Mason (C), Josh Weber (1B)
- Coach: Alex Johnson (first year).
- 2011: 11-16 (3-7 WCC North).
- Returning letterwinners — Srs.: Kyle Hoffman (SS/P), Kelan Simmer (1B), Dustin Ditzman (1B), Brady Hancock (2B), Nick Lapaczonek (2B/OF), Shane Ranson (OF/P), B.J. Zanhiser (C) Jrs.: Drew Amador (3B/P), Trent Burns (3B/P)
- Newcomers — Jrs.: Tyler Nelson (OF/P), Caleb DeHamer (OF)
- Coach: Glen Cook (third year; 9 total seasons at Rockridge).
- 2011: 19-7 (5-5 WCC North).
- Returning letterwinners — Srs.: Cody Hinson (P/CF), Drew Williams (P/1B), Sage Wetteland (2B/SS), Tyler Whitcomb (SS/2B), Gary Lucas (2B), Dewey Stropes (Utility), Austin Leach (OF/P) Jr.: Chase DeKeyrel (OF/1B/P)
- Newcomers — Sr.: Taelor Hufford (3B/P, transfer from Rock Island) Jrs.: Mitch Woeber (C), Tanner Gillispie (IF), Colton Steele (OF/IF/P), Nick Emery (C/3B), Dayton Stanford (IF/OF) Soph.: Nick Madison (P/OF)
- Coach: Sean McCollum (third year)
- 2011: 11-15 (4-6 WCC North)
- Returning letterwinners — Srs.: Bryce Frenell (P), Jake Friichtenicht (P/CF), Trace Gingerich (SS/P), Jake Boraas (DH), Mike Baugh (1B) Jrs.: Brian King (P/1B), Nathan Fay (P/OF)
- Newcomers — Sr.: Kevin Hauger (OF) Jrs.: Johnny Baumunk (2B), Eric Arbet (P), Austin Kelly (3B), Tyler Lynch (OF), Lucas Zurcher (OF) Soph.: Lucas Boraas (OF/P), Dwight Swartz (Utility), Austin Hildebrandt (C)