Two Austin games this week postponed
By Scott A. Kolb
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
With the scheduled first week of the baseball season washed out, the Austin Packers are targeting next Tuesday against the Faribault Falcons for the opening game.
A pair of Big Nine Conference games against Winona and Owatonna had to be postponed for this week due to inclement weather.
The original opener against Winona, which was supposed to be played today, has been rescheduled for a doubleheader at Seltz Field on April 29. The game against Owatonna, which was scheduled to be the home opener on Thursday, will now likely be played as a road doubleheader in early May at Dartts Park.
"I think we’ll be competitive this season, but the question mark is pitching," Austin coach Troy Watkins said. "Defensively, we will be OK. Some of those younger guys who are now juniors got game experience last year and that will help. The first couple of weeks of practice indoors have gone good, but we’re ready to get outside and play ball. For now, we’re stuck in the Hastings Gym until the weather clears up."
So far, the extent of playing outside for the Packers has been shagging fly balls in the parking lot at Austin High. Still, the Packers have a number of guys who played last season and also gained valuable experience playing in the summer leagues.
Five seniors lead the way this season for Austin High on the baseball diamond. Andrew Orcutt, Jeremy Srock, Nick Grage, Jake Schmit, and Conner Surdy all played last season and lettered. Juniors Mark Harber, John Kirby, and Nate Wagner also saw extensive playing time last season.
The pitching staff will be more diverse than last season, but Watkins is still looking for a top starter. Surdy and Schmit started some games last year. Srock will also add to the depth on the staff.
Harber was a starter last season, and Kirby will get a lot more innings in the upcoming campaign. Junior Dylan Monson will also see time on the mound this season. Wagner and Adam Hemann are also expected to be key contributors out of the bullpen. In addition to the returning pitchers, the Packers also have a couple of left-handers in junior Nate Justice and sophomore Brady Klingfus.
"We have a number of guys that can throw for us," Watkins said of his mound corps. "We’re looking for some guys to step up and see what they can do. We have a good crew of pitchers, and a couple of left-handers will also help. Some of the guys coming back will see a lot more innings this season."
Once again, the competition in the Big Nine Conference will be tough this season. The Austin boys finished in the middle of the pack last season at fifth-place in the conference standings.
Watkins looks for Rochester Century and Mankato West to be the top two teams in the conference race. The Century Panthers are the defending Big Nine champs and they have most of their key players coming back.
It’s still too early to tell if the Packers have the talent to compete with the big boys in the conference chase, but the team will have plenty of depth. This is the sixth season for Watkins as the Packers coach and he’s ready to see what his team can do when it finally takes the field.
"We’ve been happy about how things have progressed in two weeks of practice, but everybody looks good hitting in cages and not seeing live pitching," Watkins said. "We’ll see what happens, when they step into the batter’s box for real. We’ve got some experience and a lot of guys back, so at this point we’re looking for them to compete for starting positions. It sure would be nice to get in a few practices outside before the season starts."
The coach may get his wish as later in the week the weather is forecast to warm up into the 50s. The start of the season in now tentatively set for next week at Bell Field in Faribault.
2008 AUSTIN BASEBALL
Seniors — Andrew Orcutt (outfield), Jeremy Srock (infield/pitcher), Nick Grage (infield), Jacob Schmit (outfield/pitcher), Conner Surdy (outfield/pitcher). Juniors — Adam Hemann (outfield/pitcher), Mike Hoeper (outfield), Adam Johnson (infield), Nate Justice (outfield/pitcher), Dylan Monson (outfield/pitcher), Jordan Riemann (outfield), Steven Rizzi (infield), Nate Wagner (infield/pitcher), Jacob Winters (catcher), Cory Woods (outfield), John Kirby (outfield/pitcher), Mark Harber (infield, pitcher). Sophomore — Brady Klingfus (infield/pitcher).
(Home games at Seltz Field)
Apr. 8 — at Faribault, 5 p.m.
Apr. 10 — Albert Lea (DH), 4 p.m.
Apr. 14 — at Northfield, 4:30 p.m.
Apr. 15 — Rochester JM, 5 p.m.
Apr. 17 — at Mankato West, 5 p.m.
Apr. 18 — at Waseca, 5 p.m.
Apr. 22 — Rochester Mayo (DH), 4 p.m.
Apr. 24 — at Mankato East, 5 p.m.
Apr. 29 — Winona (DH), 4 p.m.
May 1 — at Owatonna (DH), 5 p.m.
May 6 — Faribault, 5 p.m.
May 8 — at Rochester Century (DH), 4 p.m.
May 13 — at Rochester JM, 7 p.m.
May 20 — Mankato East, 5 p.m.