Baseball: Patriots eye top spot in Prairie Conference

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The Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) baseball team looks to add more offense to an already stingy defense as it gets set for the spring season.

The Patriots are coming off of a 14-6 season during which they finished as the runner-up in the Prairie Conference before suffering a close playoff loss to eventual state champion Eden Valley-Watkins.

“Defensively we should be real solid,” USA head coach Ken Solarz said. “Our infield turned 21 double plays and one triple play last season. Our outfield has the speed and aggressiveness to take some hits away.”

“Last year we struggled at the plate and this year we need to find a way to score more runs, but with all the baseball these kids played last summer that should be improved,” he said.

Returning starters for the Patriots include juniors Brock Cichon (pitcher/shortstop), Alec Griffith (first base/pitcher), Colten Kruzel (second base), Tren Dinius (catcher) and Nick Frieler (infield) and sophomores Christian Pekarek (center field) and Eric Lampert (third base/pitcher).

Junior outfielder Andy Nelson should contribute to the offense, Solarz said, with seniors Tom Ripplinger and Travis Schneider and sophomore Dylan Zimmerman providing pitching, primarily in relief.

Graduating from last year’s team were Jake Voss, Brandon Welinski, Jacob Frieler, Ethan Schultz, Jordan Pangrac and Marcus Fruechte.

USA’s top competition in the conference is expected to be Browerville and St. John’s Prep, Solarz said.

Seniors on this year’s team include Schneider, Ripplinger, Darin Gerads and Derek Pfeiffer.

USA opens the season with a home game against Eagle Valley, April 10.