They’re ready to repeat

Wildcats ready to defend to district crown with target on their back

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Alpena baseball team includes from left to right: back: Lars MacArthur, Owen Limback, Chris DeRocher, Logan Guthrie, Lucas Crosby, Chandler Lantz, Cody Sumerix and Colin Donajkowski; front: Austin Ritter, Aidan Goike, Kyle VanDusen, Colby Plowman, Bruz Copping, Alex Cosbitt, Anthony Berg and Clay Donajkowski.

For the first time in seven years, the Alpena High baseball team will enter a season with the target on its back.

The Wildcats used a thrilling come from behind victory to shock Traverse City West in the district championship game last year in Alpena.

Alpena enters the 2018 season determined to defend its district title and brings back a handful of experienced players that were apart of last season’s district title team.

“I talked with each kid individually when we sat down and picked the team and told them about how the situation was going to be this year with the target being on our back and I just told them that they have to be prepared and work extra hard because the rest of the teams in our conference and district are going to be gunning for us,” Alpena coach Phil Schultz said. “We can’t just sit back and think just because we won a district championship last year, teams are going to lay down for us. We have to work hard because we’re not going to surprise anyone and I think we did a little of that last year and surprised some teams because of how young and talented we were. Despite being young, we were able to mature as the season went on and played some good baseball last year.”

The Wildcats will still be young this season based on age, but the 2018 team will have plenty of experience as they return several starters from last year’s team, along with bringing back other capable players, giving Schultz plenty of options during the year.

“There are a lot of kids on this team that have played together through the years and there’s a good balance of talent that gives a competitiveness within the team to get the playing time so that’s going to help a lot,” Schultz said. “These guys are baseball savvy, they understand how to play the game and are aware of things and so far we’re looking good.”

The Wildcats return three seniors in Chandler Lantz, who broke the school record for singles in a season last year, Lars MacArthur and the team’s ace Lucas Crosby. Along with those three seniors, Alpena returns four sophomores, Bruz Copping, Aidan Goike, Chris DeRocher and Logan Guthrie who each played pivotal roles last year.

DeRocher will spend time playing first base like he did much of last season with Owen Limback backing him up when DeRocher is on the mound. Lantz will return to his second base position. MacArthur, who is a three-year varsity player will return as the team’s shortstop. Copping will hold down the hot corner and will also be relied on as the team’s number two pitcher. The outfield will consist of Goike who will patrol center field and bat leadoff, with Guthrie, Colby Plowman, Limback spending time in the corner outfield positions. Kyle VanDusen will play in different spots on the infield and serve as a utility player who can handle the bat and has good speed. Colin Donajkowski will start behind the dish with Anthony Berg serving as a backup catcher.

The Wildcats have a lot of depth in different areas and have a number of reliable pitchers they can go with to give them good innings which could be crucial, especially with the possibility of a condensed schedule and the state’s pitch count rule.

“We have several guys who can play multiple positions which is nice and we have a lot of pitchers, which is why I’m not afraid to schedule as many games as possible. We might be playing a month of ball and a have game every other day, so it’s important for us to have several pitchers with experience that we can count on to pitch for us. We know we can count on Crosby, Copping, Goike, DeRocher, MacArthur, Lantz and Guthrie all to pitch for us this season which is a nice luxury to have because we have confidence in all of our guys,” Schultz said. “We’re excited for the season to hopefully start soon and we let a few games slip away from us last year within the conference and fell a few games short of winning the league, but things set up nicely for us in districts. While it didn’t look good for a while in the district championship game, this is a team that continues to battle and keeps going. It was a lot of fun last year and we’re really looking forward to defending our championship this year.”

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at jzawacki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690.