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By Amber Hayden
ELK MOUND — For veteran coach Paul Andrea, entering his 20th year as Elk Mound’s head baseball coach with a record of 248-131, the hope is that his 2019 squad will be able to hit the field before the beginning of April.
In the meantime, Andrea and the coaching staff will be stressing the importance of fundamentals early on in practices, he said.
“We hope to get onto the field soon if the weather allows us to do so in order to give our young guys a chance to compete and get better,” Andrea explained. “There are many positions open for competition as we have to replace players at many positions.”
The Mounders finished 12-7 overall in the 2018 baseball season and tied for second-place with 6-2 conference record with Mondovi. Both teams were just a game behind co-champions Boyceville and Durand. Elk Mound also went on to claim the regional championship last year before losing 2-1 in the sectional final to eventual WIAA Division 3 State Champion Webster.
Graduation losses, however, were steep for Elk Mound as it had to say goodbye to eight seniors which were a majority of the varsity pitching staff. Elk Mound needs to look to the underclassmen, who will be competing for varsity spots and playing time, as well as several other players who possess talent to fill those vacated spots Andrea stated.
Gone are the Mounders top two hitters from a year ago, Ethan Kjellberg and Dylan Black with 26 and 20 hits respectively as well as Blake Rosenthal, Kole Ploeckelman, Logan Bergh and Dakota Bedell who combined for 58 hits.
In addition, Kjellberg won eight games on the mound in 59 and a third innings of work and had a 1.18 ERA while Rosenthal went 3-2 pitching in 29 innings.
Junior Blaze Todd will return to the mound to give Elk Mound some much needed stability and experience in the pitching department. In 2018, Todd threw in 11 games and worked 21 and a third innings to finish with a 1-2 record surrendering 19 hits and 17 runs with 24 strike outs and 15 walks and finished with a 3.61 ERA.
Senior Brett Lew will be a solid option as a catcher and provide some offense after finishing with six hits including a pair of double last season.
Chase Rhude and Nate Lew will return to anchor the top part of the Mounders’ lineup and should work well defensively for Elk Mound.
Even with the lack of experience, Mounders’ coach Andrea believes Elk Mound will have a solid defensive presence on the field.
Mondovi and Boyceville will be the top two teams in the Dunn-St. Croix this season according to the coach. If Elk Mound can keep its focus and gain experience quickly, Andrea believes his squad can compete with the Buffaloes and Bulldogs, who both return several all-conference players.
The Mounders will begin their run toward a Dunn-St. Croix conference championship this Thursday, March 28, with a home game against St. Croix Central followed by a Friday evening, March 29, away game in Arcadia.
Seniors: Ethan Kaanta, Brett Lew, Jade Saxton-Jenson and Andrew Williams
Juniors: Cole Baskin, James Javanovich, Kendall Nigon, Chase Rhude, Cole Stenhorst and Blaze Todd
Sophomores: Aiden Balts, Ryan Bohl, Isaac Gilbertson, Christian Hall, Ben Heath, Nate Lew, Sam Roder, Brett Rosenthal and Logan Smith
Freshmen: Devin Balts, Walker Banaszak, Joseph Javanavich, Ethan Johnson, Avery Kaanta, Will King, Deven Scheffler, Carson Steinhorst, Brex Todd and Trace Williams