By: ricHArd PAlerMO
The Cardinals have been in game day mindset ever since returning from the spring break trip to Arizona. The trip did not turn out as hoped. Tough competition and long innings contributed to a 3-7 result. “The Ari- zona trip is a good learning experience for our team, both on the field and off,” head coach Nick Winecke said, now entering his sixth season. “From playing tough competition, we learn our strong points and our breaking points.”
A new rule change now applies for all conference doubleheader games this season. Game one will remain a seven inning game while game two will be nine innings. “I like this rule, it changes the dynamic of play both offensively and defensively” Winecke said.
Impressing the doubters was freshman outfielder from Roseville, MN, Ben Buerkle or ‘Berkdale’ as known by the team. Hitting .407 on the trip, Buerkle leads the team in runs batted in with nine. “Even though we didn’t play that well, it was a great opportunity to bond with my team- mates.” Buerkle said. “We learned what we need to improve before confer- ence starts.”
Speaking of conference, the Cardinals finished 10-10 (19-15 over- all) in the MIAC last season. This was good for fourth in the MIAC and the Cardinals earned their second consecutive playoff berth. Weather permit- ting; the Cardinals will begin MIAC play against St. Thomas at home on March 29th.
Looking at the pitchers, not one of the 14 pitchers, starter or reliev- er, is a senior. Full of potential and fearlessness can describe this pitching staff. “We have an unorthodox group,” assistant coach Pat Jacobson said of his staff. “This season brings a lot of opportunities for guys to step up and this group has the character to understand their role.” Receiving the grief and complaints from the pitchers are the catchers. After the loss of senior catcher Kyle Service, a battle began between Tommy Merkelis, Jon Schlemmer, and Tyler Lursen. Senior catcher Schlemmer, playing with 2 more years of eligibility, started the majority of the games in AZ. Senior tommy Merkelis, who is a great leader and does not include quitting in his vocabulary, will see some action behind the plate this year, and Sophomore Tyler ‘Whitey’ Lursen looks to show his defensive strengths.
Moving up to the infield one will quickly see where the core of the leadership derives. The infield hosts a senior at each position with a strong emphasis on defense. Kevin Gannon, Zach Wolfe, Taylor Thelemann, and Paul LaNasa make up the senior infielders. “The senior guys are a good group, we have been together a while and I will miss them dearly.” LaNasa said. “I will even miss having to listen to Tommy’s NASCAR rants.” The outfield is a mix of the lot. With players from all grades bringing an impact, this group has the potential for an amazing hitting performance.
Stephen Scatassa, ace of the pitching staff and middle infielder, commented on the season ahead: “We have a lot of guys who know how to get the job done, but we also have a lot of young guys. This year will be about learning from experience and putting ourselves in a position to win every game.”