Royals primed to better ‘03 campaign

(Pictured are Royalton teammates Andrew Gurbada (left) and Pete Gleisner as they practice their hitting into the new batting cage. Royalton Head Coach Rusty Gwost tossed batting practice during a recent afternoon workout. (040404-royBPbat) Staff photo by Jason Olson)
This team is returning four seniors, three juniors and five sophomores.

So rebuilding isn’t in Gwost’s vocabulary, “We aren’t really in a rebuilding phase, because we have some really good players coming up. I’m hoping it’s a reloading phase.”

The pitching department looks solid as long as Pete Gleisner can remain as dominant as he has been over the past two seasons. Last year he was the ace when looking at the numbers. Gwost continued by stating, “Pete’s gotten better every year and if he continues to improve this year, we’ll have one of the top guys in Class A ball.” Gleisner compiled a 10-2 record (Hanson went 5-3); with a 1.05 earned runs average (Hanson, 1.92); innings pitched 66.67 (Hanson, 62) and strike outs, 111 (Hanson 105). “We’re looking to Pete to be the staff ace and we will depend heavily on him as we have over the past two years,” Gwost confirmed.

Gwost is also looking for Emil Trutwin and Gurbada to perform well on the mound. The two had a combined 3-1 average in 33 innings with 34 strike outs last season.

The Royal bats hit .319 as a team in 2003 while returners smacked a .265 batting average. And to improve that number the team purchased a new indoor batting cage this winter. “Andrew’s (Gurbada) dad worked in the cage with some guys over the winter. This will give our guys the opportunity to hit year-round,” Gwost explained during practice in the new gym.

Gurbada will return to the team as the leader in batting average — .408; hits and at bats— 33/81; on base percentage— .591; and stolen bases with 16. Nate Obermiller (.357); Chris Fussy (.316); Brandon Wiener (.385); Tyler Jendro (.333) will all be returning after batting over .300. The leading home run hitter, Fussy, will be returning to improve on his three shots and lead all returners with 17 runs batted in.

The defense will be another strong component of the team as they had a team fielding percentage of .924 while committing 31 errors in 24 games. “Our fielders are game-tested, can play under pressure and are very experienced,” Gwost explained. Gurbada will get the opportunity to play shortstop. Senior Aaron Petron will shore-up the duties behind the plate where he had seven put outs with a .938 fielding percentage.

Flyers try out new coach
Rookie Head Coach Jim Solum will take over the reigns at Little Falls as former Head Coach Mark Dunlap had to step down from last season’s 2-11 record.

Despite the poor record from last season, one of the major strengths of the 2004 squad is their competitiveness. “I feel we will be in every game just for that reason alone. Also, I think we have a group of kids that have the basics you need to win, which might sound dumb, but hitting, throwing and catching the ball. It’s as easy as that,” Solum concluded while finishing off a fielding exercise.

A weakness for the club will be finding consistency on the mound and the plate.

The Flyers haven’t reached the .500 plateau since the 1999- 00 campaign when the team finished 7-7 in the Central Lakes Conference and 1998- 99 they finished with an 8-6 record. “I think the best way for us to get back to playing .500 ball is all in the attitude,” said Solum. “If the players believe they can win and expect themselves to win it will be much easier for them. The mental part of baseball is sometimes greater than the physical aspect of the game.”

The team will see only a handful of returners from last season’s squad, including Seniors: Kevin Knopik, who will provide leadership at catcher and is one of the top hitters. Anthony Turk’s bat will have to be connecting this season again as he was one of the top hitters from last season. Turk will play at a variety of positions including centerfield and the infield. Coach Solum is looking for Ricky Drew to continue hitting well at the lead-off spot and Morgan Cekalla returns to the mound where he was one of the top pitchers on the team. Junior Paul Krebs will return to the outfield while also seeing a lot of innings on the mound.

Pitching will be a strong characteristic of this year’s team according to Solum. “We have three pitchers from last year back that logged a lot of innings, Cekalla, Krebs and Parker. The key will be if we can find a couple of guys that will step-up and be able to help us as well,” he said.

Solum explained the toughest part about being a rookie head coach is the administrative part but, “Getting out on the practice field will be the easy part.”

The new skipper is spending his third season in the Flyer dugout after spending the previous two as an assistant.

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