By PATRICK SLACK
Eight starters return from the Little Falls baseball team that twice nearly knocked off eventual state champion St. Cloud Cathedral in last year’s section playoffs.
The Crusaders rallied for a 16-8 win in the sub-section finals before prevailing 1-0 in nine innings in the section championship.
The Flyers finished with a 17-9 record and placed fourth in the Central Lakes Conference (CLC).
Little Falls has a new home this year, though, as it heads to the Granite Ridge Conference, where it will be joined by Cathedral.
Leading the Flyers will be returning two-year starters and All-CLC players, senior Joey Hanowski and junior Josh Wenzel. Both players were part of last season’s All-Record roster, with Hanowski earning Player of the Year honors.
Also coming back is the entire starting infield, which includes senior Matt Valentine at first base, juniors Spencer Fenske and Collin Eckman in the middle infield and seniors Luke Thoma and Aaron Hallberg alternating between third base and pitcher.
Senior Mitch Gregory started at designated hitter and in the outfield before suffering an injury.
“We return a number of players in key positions,” Little Falls head coach John Hanowski said. “That experience we hope leads us during the year. There will be a lot of competition for spots and playing time with the depth that we have coming back and new players coming in.”
Graduating from last year’s team were Mitch Dorn, Matt Hanowski, James Pettit and Joe Tuholsky.
Seniors on this year’s team include Mike Anderson, Sam Rydeen, Tony Arnold, Mike Holthaus, Bob Munnell, Ian Stewart, Hanowski, Valentine, Thoma, Hallberg and Gregory.
Other players expected to compete for playing time are juniors Nate Backowski, Nathan Masog, Gabe Ploof and Matt Stumpf.
Cathedral is the favorite until someone knocks them off in both the conference and section, Hanowski said
“Every team has a good athlete at the pitching position that can beat you,” Hanowski said. “If we improve as individuals and as a team as the season progresses we will be a good team going into the playoffs.”
Little Falls opens the season with a road game at Pierz, April 5.
The Flyers’ home opener is April 10 against Sauk Rapids-Rice.