When its season begins Monday night in Traer, the South Tama County baseball team will be relying on its array of experienced pitchers to carry the team this summer.
Like most teams around the state, South Tama's early season practices have been limited by weather and athletes splitting time with spring sports. Thus, the offensive part of the game usually lacks during the opening games.
However, the Trojans are hoping that experience on the mound will help keep their opponents to low run totals and earn them some wins. Pitching and fielding will be the keys to the Trojans' success during the early portion of the 2013 season.
"I think seven out of our eight pitchers had one varsity win last year," head coach Seth Koch said. "I think everybody won at least one game for us. Our pitching should be strong and our depth should be better than last year."
The South Tama team has been practicing pitching since January. A portion of the team was throwing indoors twice a week from January until mid-to-late April. Koch hopes those months of pitching pay off this summer.
STC has a good mix of pitchers this season. The Trojans have three seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and one freshman that will see time on the mound. The seniors are Sam Kuhter, Tank Keckler and Clay Waterbury. The juniors are Kolton Smith and Nate Hala, while the sophomores are Grant Koch and Dalton Doyle. Colson Frakes is the lone freshman pitcher for STC.
"Sam Kuhter is coming back as our No. 1 guy," Koch said. "He's done a nice job of getting his arm in shape and developing a second pitch. I think he will be one of the hardest throwers in the league this year. Another senior is Tank Keckler and he threw some quality innings for us last year. We also have senior Clay Waterbury. Clay is mister consistent and we know he will throw strikes. We know he will make batters put the ball in play, so we just have to go field it.
"We have a couple juniors," he added. "Kolton Smith is bigger and stronger than he was a year ago. Nate Hala, a junior, has been a really nice surprise. He's gotten himself in the weight room. He took a couple weeks off after having knee surgery, but he's come back pretty strong. Then you go to a couple sophomores in Dalton Doyle and Grant Koch. They threw some varsity innings for us last year, so we look at them to shore up the rotation. We also have Colson Frakes, who is our lone left-hander. We hope he can help us in some relief situations. It's nice to know that we have the confidence to put eight kids on mound."
Backing up the pitcher in the field, South Tama will have a rotating defensive line up, depending on who is on the mound. The only known lock is senior Noah Bearden at catcher. Bearden returns as a First-Team All-North Iowa Cedar League and Second-Team All-District player from a year ago, despite not playing the last couple of games because of a hand injury.
"Defensively, we'll be anchored with Noah Bearden behind the plate," Koch said. "We expect big things from him, especially being a senior."
South Tama's outfield will be a trio of seniors. Waterbury will move from first base to play left field. Kuhter will play centerfield and Kaleb Davenport will be the Trojans' rightfielder. On the infield, the lineup isn't as set. Smith will most likely be the starting short stop, but the three base positions could rotate between Doyle, G. Koch, Keckler, Ian Slagle and other players.
It's not the defense that has the Trojans' coach worried. He knows that should be there when the season starts Monday. However, it's the offense, especially the batting, that might take time to get rolling.
"We're rusty," Koch said. "Last night was really the first night we had everybody there that was supposed to be there. We made it an offensive practice, but we struggled swinging the bat a bit. We tried to get some reps in for some guys, but you could tell there were some guys who haven't really swung the bat in the last three weeks. We tried to tell them not to worry about it, because we'll get there."
Like the spring teams, the baseball squad wasn't immune to odd, cold weather during the past month. Add that to athletes busy with spring sports and it's been tough to consistently practice.
"It's been a little tough getting everybody there between the track guys, golf guys and this weather," Koch said. "I'd never had snow on the baseball field in May before. It's been a little tough, but we got a few of the track guys back. We still have a few state track guys, but we'll get them back full-time next week. That will be nice to get everybody together.
"The weather really set us back," he said. "At the end of the first two weeks, we had rain or snow and we couldn't get things done outside. Baseball is a tough sport to practice indoors. We're a bit behind from where we want to be, but we told the kids that last night. They know but we'll get there."
South Tama will also be trying to find players to fill the gaps left by 2012 graduates Jacob Clark and Chase Schuett. They batted second and third behind Smith last year and were a big part of the Trojans' offense.
"Defensively, I don't think we drop off that much," Koch said. "The biggest question mark we have, and I've talked about it with the kids, is Jacob and Chase scored a lot of runs for us. They got on base a lot and that offensive production has to be picked up. That's my biggest question mark going into the season. We need to find some guys who can put the ball in play, get on base and bring in some runs."
The Trojans play five of their first six games on the road. They also play a tough stretch around Memorial Day, when they play at Class 3A No. 1 Benton and 3A No. 7 Grinnell with a game at West Marshall in between.
"We'll have to be ready to play and have all of our ducks in a row," Koch said. "We have to be playing very good baseball right off the bat."
STC will start the season at North Tama. It will be a junior varsity and varsity night, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Monday. On Tuesday, STC will play at Vinton-Shellsburg, who ended the Trojans season a year ago. Their first home game is Thursday against Wapsie Valley.
"Our schedule has evolved like a major league schedule and I'm not sure why," Koch said. "We're on the road for two weeks, then home for two weeks and then on the road for a week. That first week, we have three on the road and one at home."