Upsala-Swanville Area used a deep senior class to go on a deep playoff run last spring, coming within five outs of a sub-section title.
This spring, the Patriots will have to plug the holes, nine to be exact, that departed senior class left behind.
Perhaps none will be bigger than the one at the front of the rotation by ace pitcher Brock Cichon, who compiled a 4-1 record with a 0.78 ERA, with two wins coming in the postseason.
“It’s always tough to lose a pitcher of Brock’s caliber,” Upsala-Swanville head coach Adam Gerads said. “Last year we had seven guys pitch in varsity games and to have that depth was huge with the condensed season. Five of those seven guys were seniors. Losing your ace is always a big loss, but to lose five pitchers might be more difficult to replace.”
Fortunately, the Patriots already have someone lined up to fill Cichon’s role in senior Eric Lampert, a player who was practically an ace last spring.
“Having Eric coming back will help out a lot,” Gerads said. “Last year we considered him and Brock our No. 1 and No. 1A, as they both would be the ace on most pitching staffs.
“We will need Eric to be a leader to all the young kids we have,” he said. “We are going to have a young team this year and his leadership is going to be key with these younger guys.”
Also looking to see time on the mound are juniors Tyler Evans, Kyle Soltis and Austin Johnson and sophomore Justin Cichon, with a few younger players also figuring to get a look.
Upsala-Swanville will need all the arms it can to compete near the top of the Prairie Conference and Section 5A again this season.
The Patriots aren’t looking that far ahead though, keeping their goal simple: just trying to become the best team they can.
“Hopefully that is good enough to score more runs than the other team,” Gerads said. “If we can look back at the end of the year, whether we reached our big goals or not, and are able to say that we gave our best effort, I will be pleased.
“We will have a young team this year and most of them were not a part of the team last year,” Gerads said. “The guys that were on the team hopefully can set an example for the other guys and be leaders to show the young kids what it takes to get back to that level.”
Despite the impact graduation had on the team’s staff, pitching should provide the team’s foundation this spring.
“Even losing five pitchers from last year’s team, I still think our strength will be our pitching, led by Lampert,” Gerads said. “We also will be looking for our defense to be a strength, especially early in the season when our young guys get caught up hitting at the varsity level.”
In addition to Lampert, Evans and Justin Cichon, senior Dylan Zimmerman also returns with starting experience.
Newcomers looking to step in and contribute include seniors Russell Janssen and Zach Kamphaus, sophomores Cody Wensmann, Andrew Kulla and Chase Douvier, Soltis and Johnson.