2015 Classic Cannon Valley League Preview

Posted on April 12, 2015 courtesy of Jeff Barthel, ScoreMonster

April has arrived and baseball is in the air.

South of the Twin Cities, the teams of the Classic Cannon Valley League are re-familiarizing themselves with their bats, cleats and gloves … all of this, and more – in anticipation of another exciting season of hardball!

Comprised of quality talent in both Class B and C, the CCVL is preparing to take to the diamond – with exhibition play beginning April 18 and the regular season opening May 3.

This year’s amateur baseball season culminates in Watkins and Cold Spring at the Class B and C state tournaments in late August. But prior to then, CCVL teams will face plenty of stiff competition among familiar league rivals.

“I’d put our league up against any league in the state – of any class – as one of the best,” said Dundas Dukes manager Charlie Ruud. “The competition from year to year in the CCVL is always tight, and I fully expect that to continue this year.”

Ruud’s Dukes have to be considered the team to beat again. As the league’s only team to win a game at the 2014 state tournament, Dundas opens 2015 hoping to get another shot against the team that ousted them – last year’s Class B champion, the Cold Spring Springers.

Ruud said his team took some solace in that if they were to be eliminated by anyone, it would be the state champs. But be that as it may, it doesn’t mean the Dukes’ 2-0 loss to the Springers didn’t sting them nonetheless.

“Last year, we were disappointed that we didn’t perform better against Cold Spring in the tournament – especially at the plate,” said Ruud. “We felt we certainly had a chance at the title.”

In that game Cold Spring ace Zach Femrite threw a complete-game shutout against Dundas, limiting the Dukes to just one hit. He also walked six batters and hit four with a pitch; an effort that could be called effectively erratic.

The good news for Ruud is that the team’s core is returning and Dundas (25-9, 14-2 in league play last season) may be even better this year.  

Returning for the Dukes will be team ace Todd Mathison (8-2, 1.17 ERA last season), Rudd’s co-manager Mike Ludwig, and fellow veterans Steve Loos, Pat Wadzinksi, and Tyler and Carson Jones. In addition to them, Ruud said he’s excited to pitch again this year, expressing that he feels well again after recovering from surgery two seasons ago. 

CCVL president Wayne Erickson said he expects Dundas, last year’s league champion, to be a top contender again this season. He also mentioned Miesville, Red Wing and Northfield among the league’s Class B teams.

Of the Class C teams, Erickson said the odds favor the league’s two 2014 tournament squads – Cannon Falls and Hampton. However, Erickson also said he’s excited for the quality of competition this season, particularly on the mound, and feels all of the CCVL teams are highly capable. 

“There are a lot of good players in this league,” said Erickson. “But pitching is something that controls a lot and each team has at least one good pitcher.”

Last year Dundas was the league’s lone Class B representative, as Elko of the Dakota-Rice-Scott League beat out fellow CCVL competitors in section play. As mentioned above, Cannon Falls and Hampton carried the torch for the league’s Class C teams.

Here’s a brief look at the CCVL teams as they head into the new season: 

Team: Cannon Falls Bears (Class C)

Manager: Keith Meyers

2014 record/finish: 18-14 (10-6 CCVL) / Lost 4-3 to Nisswa in first round at Class C state tournament

Returning starters:  Rich Burr, Taylor Pagel, Zeke Williams, Cory Hedeen, Keith Meyers, Ryan Brintnall

Key starting pitchers: Meyers, Hedeen, Jared Woodward, Noah Callister 

Outlook: “We are excited to have a number of young guys join the team,” manager Meyers said. “We will be losing a number of outfielders to retirement and [one] to knee surgery, so we expect our young players to step in and play a significant role for us … Bryce Boyle-Hoban, Levi Prestegaard, Hunter Blakeslee, Brock Peterson and Peter Haggerty should add much-needed youth and depth to our team.”

Team: Dundas Dukes (Class B)

Manager: Charlie Ruud

2014 record/finish: 25-9 (14-2 CCVL) / Lost 2-0 to Cold Spring in second round at Class B state tournament

Returning starters: Mike Ludwig, Steve Loos, Tyler Jones, Carson Jones, Pat Wadzinski

Key starting pitchers: Todd Mathison, Charlie Ruud

Outlook: “We hope to be in the mix for another state tournament run,” said pitcher/manager Ruud. “The core of the team will return [and] my arm is recovering well from surgery, so I plan to be a significant presence on the mound again, too.”

Team: Hampton Cardinals

Manager: Adrian Hebig (Class C)

2014 record/finish: 15-15 (8-8 CCVL) / Lost 4-1 to Fairmont in first round of Class C state tournament

Top returning leaders: Pat Strey (3B/1B/P), Austin Hebig (2B), Rhett Hebig (C), Alec Knop (3B/P), David Barry (SS/2B), Josh Chatfield (LF), Taylor Beattie (RF), Joe Schlosser (CF), Brandon Morgan (CF), Cam Hall (DH/C)

Key starting pitchers: Knop, Grant Martinson, Lucas Anderson, Marcus Frederickson, Brandon Mazur – “All have the ability to go deep into games,” said Hebig.

Relief: Strey and Lincoln Hochmuth, Anderson, Mazur, Frederickson

Outlook: “Hampton will remain a young team, with expectations to remain very competitive in the CCVL,” said Hebig. “Each game you will see the aggressive style of play to include small ball, deep threats coupled with solid pitching, and defense.”

Team: Hastings Hawks (Class B)

Manager: Shawn Matson

2014 record/finish: 19-18 (7-9 league play) / Lost 7-5 to Miesville in sections

Lineup: Eric Harris, Nick Horsch, Wes Hedlund, Jordan Jeske, Spencer Diedrich, Drew Flack, Isiah Gardell, Jaryd Marks, Jose Velez

Key pitchers: Marks, Velez, Jeske, Horsch, Hedlund

Outlook: “I’m looking to count on a number of our veteran guys to step up and play a big role this season,” said manager Matson, “guys that have been around for five or more years, like Horsch and Hedlund.”

Matson added that pitching and defense will be the keys to the Hawks success this season, saying: “Relying on our pitching, along with playing good defense, is what’s going to allow us to be in games and compete.”

Team: Lake City Serpents (Class C)

Manager: Scott Gwaltney

2014 record/finish: 5-13 (4-12 league play) / Lost 6-3 to Hampton in league playoffs

Lineup: Gwaltney said all of his 13 players should play pretty equally: Austin Baab, Bryce Breuer, Logan Thomas, Scott Gwaltney, Alex Nelson, Ryan Wolfe, Brett Gwaltney, Derek Sogla, John Brown, Matt Miller, Kyle Sursely, Hunter Baab and Zachary Wolfe.

Key starting pitchers: Brett Gwaltney, Sursely

Key relievers:  Austin Baab, Brown and Thomas

Featured players: Brett Gwaltney 

Outlook: “We expect to be a competitive and scrappy team,” said manager Gwaltney. “We hope to compete and finish near the top of the C teams in the league, and to be one of the two C teams to move on to regionals.”

Team: Miesville Mudhens (Class B)

Manager: Matt Van Der Bosch

2014 record/finish: 15-12 (11-5 CCVL) / Lost 5-3 to Dundas in section 1B playoffs

Key acquisitions: Deryk Marks, Jordy Horsch, Nick Judkins, Nate Hammes

Key starting pitchers: Steve Maher (1.91 ERA last season), Andrew Yetzer (2.55 ERA last season), Eric Olson (4-1, 3.04 ERA in 65.2 innings pitched last season; Olson is the Mudhens’ “workhorse,” according to Van Der Bosch)

Key players: Van Der Bosch (led the CCVL with a .456 batting average last season; he also had three home runs, 26 RBI and 19 stolen bases), Charles Bruchu (.415 BA with 22 RBI and 11 SB last season)

Relievers: Andrew Werner (2.78 ERA, 21 K, 16 IP last season), Chris Olean

Outlook: “We expect to have a talented, seasoned, and veteran team to compete at the top of this league, with the hopes of making it back to the state tournament,” said manager Van Der Bosch.

Keep an eye on Kuzniar: Van Der Bosch said a player to look out for year is Tim Kuzniar – a second-year Mudhen who was out all of last year with a broken hand.  Kuzniar was a two-time All-American outfielder with the University of St. Thomas, but broke his hand in the College World Series last year. Van Der Bosch said he expects Kuzniar to provide a big bat to the middle of Miesville’s lineup.

Team: Northfield Knights (Class B)

Manager: TBD

2014 record/finish: 14-10 (10-6 CCVL) / Lost 16-11 to Elko in Section 1B playoffs

Key returning starters: Eric Pittman INF, Dave Picha OF/P, Scott Benjamin OF, Troy Deden C/DH, Alden Severson 1B

Key starting pitchers:  Jackson Meland, Tim Maus
Key relievers: Nate Gelle

Featured players: Severson (led team with .392 batting average and 21 RBI last season), Pittman (.347 BA, 17 RBI in 2014), Meland

Expectations: “To be one of the top seeds coming out of the section,” said team representative Dan Swanson. “I feel we can compete with any team in this section. I realize it’s a difficult section to come out of, but I certainly feel we’re confident enough to do it.”

Filling void after Maus exodus: Swanson said a key to the Knights success this year will be the team’s leadership transition. Longtime Northfield high school manager and recent skipper of the Knights, Pete Maus, stepped down after last season.  “Pete Maus has been the manager for the Knights in recent years and longtime coach at the high school,” Swanson said. “So seeing how one or two of the players step up into that role.” It has yet to be determined who will be the new manager, but Swanson said it will be a player-manager – mentioning Pittman, Benjamin and Meland as potential candidates.

The team will also look to fill the void of their former manager’s son, infielder Sam Maus. Sam left for the St. Paul Saints last June, after he hit .433 for the Knights in limited action. This season, Northfield will miss him from Day One.

Northfield will, however, have one Maus returning. Sam’s brother, Tim Maus, comes back to the Knights as one of the team’s key starting pitchers, per Swanson.

Team: Randolph Railcats (Class C)

Manager: Scott Otte

2014 record/finish: 0-20 (0-16 league play) / Lost 9-2 to Lake City in league playoffs

Probable starters: 1B Dennis Mulvihill, 2B Derick Otte or Andy Endres, 3B Dillion Sellner, SS Rick Otto, LF Jake Hines, CF Ryan Endres, RF Kyle Vickerman, C Scott Otte or Ben Lacefield

Key starting pitchers: Rick Wagner, Scott Otte, Derick Otte, and possibly Endres

Other pitchers: Phil Otto, Rick Otto

Outlook: “Our expectations for this year are to improve greatly on two very subpar seasons the last couple years,” said manager Scott Otte. “I feel as though we have added a lot of talent this year, and we look to get back to competing for a conference championship like we did three years ago.”

Restoring the Railcats: “Another thing of note is that our goal as a team is to stay as local to Randolph as possible,” said Otte, adding, “and this year only two players on our roster are not either Randolph High School graduates or [residents of] Randolph.”

Team: Red Wing Aces (Class B)

Manager: Jimmy Bohmbach

2014 record/finish: 13-12 (8-8 CCVL)

Projected lineup: 1. RF Zach Garner 2. 2B Adam Thygesen 3. CF Steve Boldt 4. DH Jimmy Bohmbach 5. 3B Ty Buck 6. LF Dave Jenson 7. C Kyle Blahnik 8. 1B Josh Thygesen 9. SS Dylan Bjork

Key starting pitchers: Aaron Johnson, JT Cunningham, Aaron Stoneberg, Brady Schroeder

Featured Players: Boldt, Blhanik, Buck

Relievers: Spencer Schroeder, Boldt

Outlook: “Our pitching staff will again be the strength of our team, as we return all of our starting pitching,” said manager Bohmbach.

Bohmbach said the Aces’ expectations are to advance to the state tournament. He also mentioned some new changes to the team this season: “The board of the association is now comprised of three new members,” Bombach said. “We are also bringing in a few new players and losing a few veterans, so the lineup will probably be changing throughout the season.”

* Note: The 2014 team records listed above are for regular season games only.

You can follow Jeff Barthel on Twitter @JeffreyRBarthel and check out his blog, JRB Sports Scribe, where he last blogged extensively about the 2014 Minnesota Baseball Association state tournament. 

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