Each and every night in the Tri-Rivers Conference is a tough night during baseball season. Fans going to the ballpark to support the Maquoketa Valley baseball team will be treated to watching three talented teams who are ranked in the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll. Lisbon (36-1), ranked 10th in Class 1A, and North Linn (41-4), who is moving up to Class 2A is ranked sixth. Both of those teams made it to the elite eight in Class 1A State Tournament last year and no one can overlook Alburnett (34-7) who is ranked third in 1A.
Fans will also be treated to seeing how a group of unexperienced players will band together to compete.
One way they will do that is by following the example set by Norm Wilson, the team’s new leader, who will also be a work horse on the mound. The scrappy senior was 1-3 with an ERA of 5.25 in 30 2/3 innings of work. The only other pitcher with any varsity experience is fellow senior Jon Seibert who logged just 7 2/3 innings.
Needless to say, experience is going to be an issue for the Wildcats this season and that’s largely because they graduated six multi-year starters and four of them were also the team’s top pitchers.
“My main concern for this team is how we are going to fill the shoes of the six seniors we lost. Anytime you have to replace that many guys on the field is tough,” said Eric Conner, third-year head coach of the Wildcats. “I believe that this year’s team has a different mental approach and they are locked in and ready to do big things. We have a lot of guys on this team who haven’t had a whole lot of varsity playing time, but I am confident that they will step up when they need to and deliver.”
The youth movement will have to be alive and well if the Wildcats are going to improve upon their 17-14 record of last year and their sixth place finish (13-11) in the TRC.
Players who Conner is looking to be key contributors this year include returning veterans Parker Sternhagen (.236, 16 RBIs, 17 runs), Blake Becker and Andrew Holtz as well as newcomers Aspen Kraus, Owen Mensen, AJ Ambundo and Michael Schaul.