DRS League begins play Sunday

It’s spring, and that means it’s baseball time.

The Dakota-Rice-Scott Baseball League begins play Sunday, April 23, with five games late for opening day. This is the 71st season for the 13-team league.

Teams will be competing for the chance to play in the State Amateur Baseball Tournament, which this year will be hosted by Green Isle, Hamburg and Norwood over three weekends, concluding on Labor Day.

Each D-R-S team will play a 23-game schedule except for Elko, which will play 12 league games. Elko is the only Class B team in the league, with the other 12 teams competing in Class C.

Two teams have new managers this season, and in both cases it’s a “Back to the Future” situation, as Chris Hertaus takes over in Veseli after a two-year hiatus and John Masberg is back as co-manager at Union Hill.

For the second year, team standings will be compiled for all 12 teams, rather than in three four-team divisions. League standings will determine seeding for the Region 3C playoffs with four teams advancing to state. An informal poll of managers pick New Market, Prior Lake and Faribault as the top Class C teams in the league.

Games this Sunday are all scheduled for 2 p.m. They are: • New Market at New Prague • Lonsdale at St. Patrick • Union Hill at Veseli • Prior Lake at Elko • Webster at Montgomery Shakopee, Faribault and St. Benedict will play their first games a week later, on Sunday, April 30. The DRS League will face the River Valley League All- Stars in a game to be played at New Market on Saturday, July 8.

Here is a brief preview of each of the DRS teams:

Elko Express Terry Fredrickson’s Elko Express is coming off another successful season and hopes to qualify for the State Class B Tournament this season. The team is the only Class B team in the DRS, and plays only half of a league schedule. top players returning include pitcher Tyler Brekke, Nick Dorfman and Glenn Parker and hitters Dylan Thomas, TJ Evanson, Jason Grimm and Jake Miller. New players on the team are Joey Larson, Joe Tschida, Mitch Frederick, Nick Bentley and Darrin Levin. The Express say goodbye to Justin King, Nick Altavilla, Adam Alexander and Gordon Kappers. “We lost some key players, but we are hoping to fill in the holes they leave with young talent,” Fredrickson said. He included New Market, Prior Lake and Faribault as the top teams in the league this season.

Faribault Lakers The Faribault Lakers are coming off a 17-12 season, 14-9 in league play, and are hoping to return to the upper echelon in the DRS league this season. Pitching is one of the keys to the Lakers’ lineup. They return Matt Lane (5-3, 1.96 ERA), Jack Helgeson (4-2, 2.60) and Evan Knutson (4-3, 3.80). “All three of these guys throw strikes and get big outs,” Manger Charlie Lechtenberg said. The Lakers have their share of big hitters too, including Joey Grote, Mitch Johnson and Blake Langerud. “We expect guys like Ryan Archambault, Jack Helgeson, Matt Lane and Dylan Valentyn to have strong bounce back years,” Lechtenberg said. “We struggled scoring last year and will need guys to step up and be more consistent in order to get back to state.” The Lakers missed the state playoffs last year after qualifying the previous two seasons. The Lakers lost Matt Stocker and Adam Jenson to retirement. They hope to get more contributions from Porter Sartor and Egan Bonde, both of whom are playing this spring at Buena Vista University. “We expect the league to be strong this year. The teams top to bottom have all improved, and last year was a great example of teams playing well at the end of the season being especially dangerous,” Lechtenberg said. He said his squad, along with New Market and St. Patrick, will be among the top teams. “These three have each been in the top five in the league every year since 2013 and have proven to be consistent winners.”

Lonsdale Aces The Lonsdale Aces are hoping to move up in the league standings this season after posting a 7-16 league record in 2016. Darrell Vosejpka manages the team, with assistant coach Dave Readmond. Top players returning include pitcher Phil Tisdel, catcher Thomas Hoppert, infielders Jordan Yetzer, Cole Pint, outfielders Jake McGeorge and Joe Sabal, along with Ben Lazzari, Alex St. Germain, Ryan Thompson, Greg Johnson, Dan Turner, Isaac Pint and Tyler Milford. New players for the team this year are Marty Kalina, Tyler Henze, Zack Sexe, Brad Davis, Jack Skluzacek, Justin Johnson, Zack Mikel and Peter Grassl. Players who have left the team include Justin Scheffler, Travis Scheffler, Matt Tschida, Tyler Sticha, Lance Anderson, Jason Kirschman, Mike Robohm, Dylan Eisele and Phil Goedderz. “This will be the youngest team we’ve had since 1999,” Vosejpka said. “We are rebuilding for the future.” Vosejpka lists New Market, Union Hill and Prior Lake as the top teams in the league this season.

Montgomery Mallards Montgomery is coming off a season that saw them go 19-12, 14-9 in league play and qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2002. Christian Anderson returns as manager for the Mallards. On the mound, the team will be led by Ted Christian, Johnny Krocak and Jaron Anderson. Krocak is also a consistent hitter with lots of pop to his bat, and other hitters include Ryan Iverson and Mike Flicek, a proven run producer. There are no roster changes expected for the Mallards. “We are excited about the 2017 season,” Anderson said. “We have a veteran team with young talent. It’s a fun mix of guys. The DRS is a tough league. You need to be focused each game or risk losing to any team.” Anderson said that New Market, Faribault and Prior Lake appear to be the teams to beat this year in the DRS.

New Market Muskies The New Market Muskies return nearly their entire roster from last year’s team, which went 26-7. Muskies coach Todd Bergstrom said the team’s top returnees include catcher Andy Henkemeyer, who provides a big bat and good defense, pitcher Nate Rost, who is not only a top end pitcher, but rock solid hitter, lights out bullpen guy Derek Bergstrom and shortstop Scott Lyden, who has a high on-base percentage and sparks the offense. “We look to have a few high school kids join the team after their season. That should bring good defense to the team,” Bergstrom said. “I'm very happy with the way the team is shaping up this year, I think we will be strong 1 through 9 and hope to have the pitching to keep us competitive in every game. Goals for this year remain the same, a state tournament birth with a deep run.” He said the DRS as a league keeps getting stronger. “Young talent throughout the league makes each team a tough game. I think Union Hill will make some noise this year, along with St. Patrick, Faribault and New Market.”

New Prague Orioles The New Prague Orioles finished with a 15-13 record last season, and Manager Jerry Plambeck hopes to build on some of the successes from last year. The squad will be led on the mound by pitchers Joel Zimmerman, a trusty veteran who throws strikes and can go deep into games. Dustin Beckius has been the most consistent pitcher for the team the last four years, amassing 19 wins. Chase Buthe is a veteran who can both start and relieve, and Zach Sirek is a hard thrower who the team looks to become a staple in the rotation. The Orioles have plenty of bats in the lineup, including Austin Bachman, a speeding outfielder who hits for both average and power, Eric Wagner, who showed great improvement last year and is coming off an all-start season, leadoff hitter Justin Novak, power hitting third baseman Zack Dubanoski and James Fuerniss, a young first basement who will also get the opportunity to pitch. And, the ageless Dan Novak returns for another year behind the plate. New players for the Orioles include Russ Bartyzal, Will Forberg, Jacob Mader and Nathan Sprouls. Players who have left the team include Dustin Steinhoff, Ted Nytes and Dan Ring. “Our goal will be to play competitive, consistent baseball and peak at the end of the season,” Plambeck said. “We will need young players to take another step forward,” Plambeck said New Market, Union Hill and Prior Lake look to be the teams to beat again this season. The Orioles will host their annual invitational June 9-11 at Memorial Park. The team will also have most of its home games early in the season, as the park will be shut down in July to complete renovations in time to host the 2018 State Amateur Baseball Tournament.

Prior Lake Mudcats Greg Faue is back as manager of the Prior Lake Mudcats, a team that posted a 15- 8 league record and advanced to the final weekend of the State Class C Tournament in 2016. Top returning pitchers for the Mudcats are Topher Rose, Ben Morrison, Isaac Sand and Justin Hackett. At the plate, team leaders are Jonny Houston, Cole Bjorge, Kyle Schmidt and Jake Lehrer. New faces on the team this year include Lucas Pumper (pitcher, catcher, all-around) Cooper Youngs (outfield [pitcher) Ryan Rose (catcher). Tony Loehr is not on this year’s roster. “The DRS is a great league,” Faue said. “Our team has depth and will compete hard for another trip to state.” He expects that New Market, Faribault and St. Patrick will be among the top teams this season.

St. Benedict Saints The St. Benedict Saints are coming off their third state tournament berth in four years, and returns most of their squad fro 2016. Top pitchers include Tanner Oakes, Michael Pauly, Jeremy Heitkamp and Matthias Duevel. Top hitters include Cullen Bahn, Mitchell Martin, Andrew Huss and Nick Heitkamp. New players on the team are Eric Steinhoff and Michael Lambrecht. Josh Malz and Jacob Molitor are gone from last year’s squad. Manager Wade Olsen said the team will need to work on consistency. “We will be better at the end of the season than during it. We're just OK, and will try to play a couple good games at the right times similar to last season.” As for the rest of the league, he said Union Hill has taken the biggest step forward. “They have joined New Market and Prior Lake as elite teams in our league. Faribault, Montgomery, St. Patrick, and New Prague are all in the hunt as well. Shakopee and Lonsdale have some key guys gone, so I am unsure about their clubs. If I was a betting man, I'd take Union Hill, New Market, Prior Lake, and Faribault as favorites to play the longest.”

St. Patrick Irish John Johnson is in his fifth season as manager of the St. Patrick Irish, with Bill Dunker assisting. The team is coming off a strong 16-7 record, finishing second in the league standings, but then lost two games in the playoffs and did not advance to state. “We’ll have continued veteran leadership on the mound from Josh Simon, Matt and Seth Ambroz and Bill Dunker, and we are looking for our younger pitchers, Zach Seurer and Jacob Allen to pitch more innings and gain more experience,” Johnson said. Offensively the Irish will look to Augie Isaacson and other younger players to get on base and veteran hitters such as Matt Ambroz, Seth Ambroz, Josh Simon and Derek Hahn to knock them in. Kyle Rhodus joins the team this season. “We expect him to contribute with solid outfield defense and some innings on the mound,” Johnson said. “We’ve mixed in some high school talent and look forward to their contributions when available.” Dom DeLuca and Kenny Johnson have retired and Mathew Pexa has moved due to his career and will miss the next two seasons. “We feel we have a good mix of veteran and young players and expect to compete at a high level in the League this year,” Johnson said. He added that New Market, Prior Lake, Faribault and Union Hill are the teams to beat this season.

Shakopee Coyotes After posting an 11-12 league record last year, the Shakopee Coyotes lost their first round playoff game, but then won three straight in the loser’s bracket to claim a spot in the state playoffs for the second straight season. “We started out the season on quite a roll and took a winning record into the half-way point of the schedule,” said Dick Steinhoff, co-manager this season with Bozo Hoffman. “The team relaxed a little down the stretch run and finished the last half on a losing note, but our young players had another year to to see the game played at the men's level and responded well and by the end of the season were a large part in getting us back to state.” Top returnees include shortstop Zak Hoffman, who battled injuries last year, catcher Matt Theis, and outfielders Matt Conrad and Alec Pauly. Pitching will be a question mark this season as Alex Johnson has moved out of the area and Cody Pamperin is playing minor league ball in Canada this season. “Our goal is to finish in the top half of the DRS and make a strong run in the regions to make it three state trips in a row,” Steinhoff said. He said New Market will be the team to beat again this year, with a strong push by Prior Lake. “I would expect St. Patrick and Montgomery to have strong seasons and Union Hill to make a push this season also.”

Union Hill Bulldogs A familiar face returns to the dugout as John Masberg returns to manage the Union Hill Bulldogs this summer, along with co-manager Adam Wiener. Last year the Bulldogs finished the season with a 9-14 record in the regular season. A strong run in the playoffs left them one game short of a state tournament berth, losing to archrival St. Benedict. The Bulldogs will have some power on the mound, with Daniel Feneis, Rick Bell, Hunter Piehl, Dan Meger and Dave Anderson. Top hitters include Adam Gill, Jesse Bastyr, Eric Bisek, Bryan Lindner, Danny Beckius, Matt Beckius, Jeff Dietz, Adam Giesen and Cullen Smith. Several new players join the squad this year, including Jack Becker, Ted Nytes, Dusty Steinhoff, Luke Zweber. Masberg’s son Conrad rejoins the team after a few years away, and another son Derek Masberg, a player at Winona State, will also suit up for his father. “We have added players who have some mound presence, which can be a good thing. We are looking to add stability at all levels, including our batboy Aidan Bell,” Masberg said. Players not returning to the team this year include Jon Beckius, Casey Busch, Ben Miller and Eric Olson. “We are excited to get the season started. We have some exciting changes that hopefully will keep us competitive int he DRS.” New Market, Montgomery and Faribault are among the top teams in the league, Masberg said. They are exciting teams to watch.”

Veseli Warriors Chris Hertaus returns as manager of the Veseli Warriors after a two-year hiatus. The Warriors had some tough-luck losses last season as they had a 7-16 record. “We have a good core of veteran ballplayers, and we are adding some new players to our roster. The combination should make us more competitive in our league,” Hertaus said. “I look forward to what I believe will be a very successful season and hope to play further in to the postseason than in previous years,” Hertaus said. The Warriors pitching staff includes Ben Doerr, Matt Perkinson, John Solheid, Mike Bartusek, Curt Brezina and Blake Radloff. At the plate, look for players such as Perkinson, Brezina, Doerr, Nathan Novak, Corey Friedges, Nathan Simon, Tyler Busch and Mike Bartusek to lead the squad. Hertaus said New Market, Faribault and St. Patrick will be among the top teams in the league this season.

Webster Sox After a season that saw the team break an impressive losing streak, the streak that made Webster famous, the Sox hope to improve in 2017. The Sox are coached by Mike Sandmann. Webster’s roster stays mainly intact with Nate Nielsen and Jeremy Weiland leading the charge. A new roster addition; Gavin Bergmann, brother of current Sox player, Gage Bergmann adds even more youth to the roster. Other returning players include Jake McDonald, Brooks Prochaska, Jake Meyer, Marcus Pleiss, Brett Hoffman, Adam Neuger, JJ Stenzel, Nick Hanson, Cole Giles, Brent Cheney and Parker Hafermann. All are expected to contribute this season.