No question this spring has provided some challenges for area baseball teams.
"No one wants to be practicing on a gym floor come April," Wildcat baseball coach Ryan Bishop noted. "There are no weather variables inside, and there are no bad hops on a gym floor."
The Cats got a brief respite from the cold and snow during a parent organized trip to Arizona during spring break March 18-24. The group worked out at local high schools while also attending spring training practices and games of former Wildcats Marty Herum of the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale, and Alex Call of the Chicago White Sox in Glendale.
"We had an amazing time in Arizona over spring break," Bishop said. "With spring break so late this year some parents organized a group trip for players revolving around baseball. I can't thank the parent group enough for providing such a great experience for the players and families who went. To get to watch both Marty and Alex play in a big league spring training game was icing on the cake."
Since returning the Wildcats have been stuck inside the high school gym. They've already had two games cancelled, including this past Tuesday's scheduled Big Rivers Conference and home opener against Hudson, and it doesn't look to get better anytime soon.
The setbacks are only complicating the challenge of replacing 12 seniors from last year's roster, including all-conference players Zach Hadzima, Mitchell Feyereisen and Mason Graetz. Headlining the list of returners is All-BRC shortstop Adam Feyereisen and all-conference pitcher Jake Lindsay, who has been named to the WSN Senior Baseball Awards Pitcher Watch List to start the season.
Bishop said for now, the Wildcats are just trying to stay focused while waiting for Mother Nature to cooperate.
"As long as the players stay focused, we can really make progress on fine tuning our fundamentals," he said. "That's our focus right now, and hopefully things are very habitual once we do get outside."
Lindsay returns for his third and finals eason to anchor the Wildcat pitching staff after posting a record of 5-1 with a 1.46 earned run average a year ago. He struck out a team-high 45 batters in 48 innings pitched while walking just four.
Seniors Ryan Flanagan and Glen Pendleton and sophomore Joe Stoffel gained valuable experience during last summer's American Legion season and will be part of the rotation as well while Bishop said junior Jackson Cleveland and sophomore Tyler Penny will also see important innings this spring.
"We have front end guys who will keep us in every game. But we're going to need quality innings from a lot of other guys this spring as well, especially given the weather situation with backed up games on the horizon," Bishop said.
Adam Feyereisen leads an experienced returning infield corps that also includes Flanagan at third base, Lindsay at second and Stoffel at first when they are not on the mound. Feyereisen batted a team-high .370 a year ago and Lindsay hit .348 while Flanagan batted .311. Senior Joey Davis or junior Jake Bergmanis will round out the infield when they are not catching, along with junior Alex Kelm.
Davis has handled the bulk of the Wildcat catching chores the past two seasons but Bishop said Bergmanis made some big strides last year as a sophomore and will compliment Davis nicely with a strong one-two punch behind the plate.
"Both of these guys are leaders on and off the field, and exactly what you look for when it comes to your field generals," he said.
The biggest question marks for the Wildcats will be in the outfield with a crop of new faces seeing action. Pendleton and senior Nick Speckman figure to anchor the corner outfield spots while centerfield is up for grabs, with Cleveland and freshman Jaden Schwantz the front runners.
"Our outfield is the one untested area heading into the season," Bishop said. "We have some very capable guys out there, just not a lot of experience at the varsity level. I'm confident we will learn and grow, and peak at the right time come playoffs."
Bishop said the Wildcats may not have the deepest roster they've ever had, but he said the team is made up of mostly multi-sport athletes who he feels will rise to the occasion when challenged.
"Team depth, pitching in particular, is an unknown area that we will look to improve on as the year progresses," he said. "That depth will be ever so important with the forecast of backed up game weeks this spring. Ready or not, a lot of guys will see regular innings come May. We're doing our best to prepare them for that during our time indoors."