Fairmont baseball on mend in rebuilding year

DOUBLING UP — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals baseball team opening the season by playing host to Jackson County Central in a 4 p.m. doubleheader today at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Daniel Brummond, Zach Soelter, Mario Maldonado, Carter Davis and Tyson Geerdes. Middle row: Eli Anderson, Jack Hested, Cale Steuber, Dalen Keltgen, Zac Ringnell and Daniel Reiter. Back row: Joey Flohrs, Jacob Johnson, Zach Jorgensen, Dustin Schultz, Blake Buntjer, Nick Eversman, Carter Reutzel and Jacob Tennyson. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Injuries are an unfortunate part of high school athletics, but the Fairmont Cardinal baseball team seems to have had more than its share since last spring.

Fairmont co-head coaches Don Waletich and Jerry Brooks began the first day of baseball practice on March 11 with one player wearing a walking boot, two more donning bulky knee braces and a fourth not even on the 2019 baseball roster.

Senior outfielder Jordan Wolter, a Sentinel All-Area selection in 2018, suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during the latter stages of the wrestling season. With the UCL damage limiting his ability to throw, Wolter made the transition to the Cardinals’ track team.

“We’ll definitely miss his ability to get on base and drive in runs,” Waletich said in reference to Wolter’s co-team-high 18 runs scored and 13 RBIs a year ago.

The good news for Fairmont, however, is that the other three ‘walking wounded’ continue to rehabilitate in hopes of contributing positive numbers to the lineup’s statistical charts this spring.

Junior right-hander Jack Hested, who had bone spurs removed from his heel after the completion of the basketball season, will look to log innings on the mound and at first base when the Cardinals open the season by playing host to Jackson County Central in a 4 p.m. Big South Conference doubleheader today at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont.

Hested, who compiled a team-low ERA of 1.56 in nine innings pitched in 2018, will join the senior right-handed trio of Jacob Tennyson, Nick Eversman and Dalen Keltgen — along with junior right-hander Joey Flohrs — as the only returning varsity hurlers from last spring. Unfortunately, the five pitchers accounted for just 28 percent of the Cardinals’ innings worked.

Tennyson, who pitched 11 frames as a junior, continues to work his way back into shape after suffering a major knee injury during the football preseason last fall. Similar to Tennyson, senior Mario Maldonado will look to regain his timing in the batter’s box after missing all of the 2018 baseball season due to a broken leg during football in the fall of 2017.

“It’ll definitely be a rebuilding year with only two (full-time) starters back,” Waletich said in reference to Eversman and senior catcher Zac Ringnell.

Eversman topped the Cardinals with a .362 batting average and shared the team lead with seven doubles last spring. Eversman also produced 12 RBIs and scored 11 runs en route to earning All-Area and all-Big South Conference honors.

“Nick will be our jack-of-all-trades player,” said Brooks. “He’ll probably play every infield position for us, and be called on to pitch some, too.”

Ringnell will return behind the plate to call signals on the heels of hitting .333 with six doubles during his junior campaign.

“Zac has probably looked the best in the batting cage so far, and he’s looked comfortable throwing the ball from behind the plate,” said Brooks.

Both Waletich and Brooks will rely on Ringnell to handle a pitching staff that will feature the junior trio of Daniel Brummond, Zach Soelter and Blake Buntjer, along with freshman Zach Jorgensen, to complement their returning five hurlers.

“We’ll have good pitching depth. Now if we can play good defense behind them, we’ll have a chance to be in games,” said Brooks. “Offensively, we’ll probably have to fight, scratch and claw for every run we can get.”

Keltgen will handle the defensive duties at shortstop, Soelter and Maldonado will compete for time at third base, Buntjer and Hested will vie at first base, while junior Jacob Johnson and Flohrs will figure into the mix at second base.

Senior Daniel Reiter will make the transition from catcher to right field this spring, with Buntjer possibly seeing time there, too.

Senior speedster Dustin Schultz will patrol center field for the Cardinals, while junior Cale Steuber and Jorgensen could see time in left field. Senior Carter Reutzel and junior Carter Davis also will figure into the outfield mix, while junior Tyson Geerdes will back up Ringnell at catcher.

Waletich anticipates Pipestone Area, Luverne and New London-Spicer as being three of the top contenders in the Section 3AA postseason this spring.

“Pipestone returns a lot of good pitching, Luverne is always competitive, and New London-Spicer returns a Division I pitcher (Illinois State commit Will Roguske),” said Waletich.

“If we expect to go anywhere in the section tournament, we’ll have to go through those guys,” said Brooks.