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Raiders' hope to overcome inexperience in new section

Jake Brake (pictured pitching last season) is one of four senior captains on this year's Raider baseball team. (File photo)1 / 3
Senior Mat Nicklay is seen scooping the ball during the 2015-2016 season. Nicklay will be expected to pitch and lead the infield this season alongside Jake Brake. (File photo)2 / 3
Cody Leflay (#30), a senior this year, is seen backing up Wyatt Kruse in the outfield last season. (File photo)3 / 3

The Hastings Raiders' baseball team moved into section 3AAAA last season, but they had a senior-laden squad to help navigate the new waters. However, entering their second season in a tough section, they will have to overcome their own inexperience; last season's team graduated 17 seniors from last season.

"Last year we moved into a new section and had some idea of what to expect," head coach Taylor Pagel said. "We knew there are good teams in the section, like Burnsville, Eastview, East Ridge, as well as others, so we knew we would have our hands full. It proved to be true. We graduated away a lot of seniors who played many different, big roles on the team and this year we will have to fill all of those spots with new players."

Pagel said that to overcome that inexperience, those returning contributors from last season will have to step up into leadership roles this season.

"We graduated our top two pitchers, so we expect (seniors) Mat Nicklay and Jake Brake to come in and take over those spots," Pagel explained. "They are big shoes to fill, but both of these guys have varsity experience pitching and we expect them to take the ball and lead the team from the mound each time they get the nod to start. We also lost our centerfielder who was a top guy on our team hitting and fielding. Clay Harris (senior) looks to fill that spot and we feel he will be a huge leader in the outfield, on the bases and in the dugout. Cole Benson (senior) will fill our catcher spot as well. Cole hasn't logged many innings for the varsity as a catcher, but he made up for that last summer catching a lot of games for the summer team. He will be expected to lead the defense, call pitches and be a leader at the plate hitting as well."

Those four have also been elected as captains by their teammates. Pagel said that Harris will lead the outfield, Nicklay and Brake will head the pitchers and infielders, while Benson will lead the defense in its entirely, as well as calling pitches.

Pagel also said that the team's goal this season is to compete and continuously improve.

"We need to get better every day, whether it is at practice or in a game," Pagel said. "Baseball is a game of failure, so we plan to work hard at learning from our mistakes and to help each other learn and grow as a team together."

He also said that his team's main strength will be the sheer numbers they have this season and that will feed into the competitive atmosphere.

"We are deep," Pagel stated. "We have a lot of players out again this year so we have guys to fill spots. They are competing for those starting spots each and every day and everyone knows there is another guy behind them looking to take their spot if they let up a little bit. We encourage and like the competitive nature within the team and the boys have been respectful and encouraging to each other, even knowing that they are competing for those spots."

However, the downside of that depth is the inexperience that comes along with it, which will be the team's main weakness this season.

"Even though we have a lot of guys, our biggest weakness will be our experience," Pagel explained. "As I said earlier, we graduated a lot of players and we are expecting a lot of guys to step in and start on the varsity with little to no experience from the past at the varsity level."

For fans of the team, Pagel said that there are several games they are looking forward to this season, both at the start and towards the end.

"We begin with section games against Park and Rosemount this year and those are big games to jump out ahead of the pack for section seeding," Pagel said. "It will be a great way to prove to ourselves and others who we are and that we will play the game the right way and play until the last out. Every conference game is important to us as we are still relatively new to the conference and have not really solidified a true conference rival. Saturday, May 6, will be a great day this year as we have a double-header in Miesville against Woodbury and East Ridge, who is in our section. It should be an awesome day of baseball."

Hastings' first action of the season is a scrimmage at 4:14 p.m. Friday, March 31, against Cannon Falls at home. They open their regular season Wednesday, April 5, at Park and then host Rosemount Friday, April 7.

Alec Hamilton

Alec Hamilton is a RiverTown Multimedia sports reporter covering Hastings, Farmington and Rosemount athletics. He graduated from Drake University with a journalism degree in 2014. 

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