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Cats ready to play ball

Second baseman Dylan James takes a throw from shortstop Marty Herum while taking part in a double-play drill during the Wildcat baseball team's practice Friday afternoon. The Cats open the season Tuesday, April 6, at Ellsworth. Bob Burrows photo

Pitching and defense are keys to wining in baseball. Wildcat head coach Ryan Bishop believes his team has the defensive part down; it's the pitching that is a question mark.

"We will be a solid team defensively, which will keep us in every game," he said. "We have the overall potential, and if our hitting and pitching can be consistent for us, there's no reason we shouldn't have a chance to win every time we step on the field."

The Cats return six starters from last year's squad, and 10 players who have seen varsity action at one time or another. But they lost a good chunk of their innings pitched, and will look towards a stable of young arms to keep opposing hitters in check.

"Juniors Jack Herum and JP Feyereisen will both get a lot of starts this spring after proving themselves during last year's summer Legion season," Bishop said. "Seniors Marty Herum and Austin Johnson will also be called upon from time to time as both starters and relievers."

Other pitchers the Cats will look to are seniors Rickey Troester and Trey Peterson and juniors Colin Pechacek and Jamie Kozak.

The most experienced part of the Wildcat lineup will be in the outfield, where Johnson, Ben Wunrow and Mark Bennett all return for their senior season. Johnson started every game in centerfield last season and earned All-Big Rivers Conference honorable mention after hitting .405.

Bishop said Pechacek and junior Nate Soley will also see time in the outfield.

Marty Herum returns as a four-year starter at shortstop. He led the team in nearly every offensive category in 2009, hitting .554 with five home runs and 27 runs batted in despite missing the last two weeks with a broken ankle. He earned first team All-BRC honors as a junior and second team accolades as a sophomore.

"He's looking to prove he's healthy and ready to help this team after missing the playoffs last spring and all of the Legion season," Bishop said.

Senior Dylan James is also back as the everyday starter at second base, while seniors Troester and Trey Peterson both return at first base, where they split time last year.

"Both will be expected to step in any time and complement each other in the field and at the plate," Bishop said.

Jack Herum and Feyereisen will team up to fill the void at third base in their first full varsity seasons, while behind the plate, senior Tyler Dusek and sophomore Ryan Kusilek will both be counted on to anchor the team.

"With 26 games in two short months, there's no doubt you need two guys you can count on behind the plate," Bishop said. "Dusek has limited varsity experience while Kusilek is eager to step in during his first year of varsity action."

The Cats are picked to finish sixth in the BRC by the conference coaches this season, ahead of only Rice Lake. But Bishop said that may work in the team's favor.

"I'd be surprised if we finished that low, and I think our players would too," he said. "We have high expectations for ourselves this spring and this group of seniors has proven to me through the years that they do not like mediocrity. I guess I'd rather be the underdog than have the target on our back. We have the potential to surprise some teams this spring if we can play consistent baseball as a team."

The Wildcats will scrimmage Eau Claire Memorial Friday at 8 a.m. at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and will open the season at Ellsworth Tuesday, April 6, at 4:30 p.m. They visit East Ridge (Minn.) Thursday, April 8, before hosting Baldwin-Woodville in their home opener Friday, April 9, at 5 p.m.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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