GGF baseball preview: Sacred Heart baseball looks to build off past success
The Eagles won 18 games last season before falling to Fosston at the section tournament.
EAST GRAND FORKS — Coming off an 18-win baseball season in 2021 and a large portion of the team coming off a state basketball tournament run this winter, the East Grand Forks Sacred Heart baseball team was itching to get a promising season underway as cold temperatures and then flooding kept the Eagles indoors.
“As coaches, we’re running out of ways to tell them how it’s important to stay focused in the gym,” Sacred Heart coach Paul Bethke said. “We had trouble believing it ourselves. They were chomping at the bit. We’ve had more games outside than practices outside.”
Once outdoors just recently now, the Eagles have picked up right where they left off last season, winning the first three games of the year before falling to North Dakota Class B power Thompson on Thursday.
The Eagles return three all-section players in seniors Cullen Rohrich (.438 batting average in 2021) and Sam Gapp (.436 batting average in 2021) and freshman Parker Erickson (5-2 pitching record in 2021 with a 1.74 earned-run average).
Gapp (8-1 pitching record in 2021 with a 1.13 earned-run average) was the conference pitcher of the year. Last year, Gapp had 64 strikeouts in just more than 52 innings of work.
“Gapp is solid,” Bethke said. “He’s Mr. Consistency. You know what you’re getting when Sam goes out there. Guys struggle with his speed. Parker last year as an eighth-grader was unbelievable, and he’s only getting better.”
A year ago, Sacred Heart fell one opponent short of the state baseball tournament as Fosston knocked out the Eagles at the section tournament.
With that past baseball success, coupled with the Eagles’ football and basketball success this school year, Bethke has a team accustomed to winning.
“You learn a lot from (the state basketball tournament),” Bethke said. “It’s not just about playing but having that success as a team. The success breeds success. There’s more to it than just playing the game. That’ll only help us.”
The Eagles have shown a few effects of the inability to practice outdoors much this season. Most other programs in the area, though, are in the same predicament, as well.
“They’ve really adjusted throughout a game,” Bethke said. “By mid-game, it’s like, okay, those are the at-bats we expect. We’re seeing improvements.
“Defensively, it has been a struggle at times but they’re concentrating on that a lot.”
Sacred Heart is aggressive on the basepaths, evidenced by last season’s 114 stolen bases in 24 games played.
Rohrich had more than a fourth of those stolen bases last season with 33.
“We’ve preached the baserunning thing so much, and they’ve bought into it,” Bethke said. “I think that’s paying off. It’s more like one through nine in our order take the extra base without hesitating and thinking about it. We tell them it’s okay to get thrown out sometimes. You’ve got to figure out how to walk that line.”
GGF baseball at a glance
GF Red River
Coach: Mark Varriano.
2021 record: 11-8, sixth place at state.
Key returners: Sr. OF-P Noah Burger; jr. OF-C Mason Stroh; jr. IF-P Gunnar Heuchert; jr. P-IF Brett Feller; sr. C Spencer Sproule; jr. IF-P Cole LeDuc.
Top newcomers: Jr. OF-P Logan Okstad; jr. OF-C Jaden Rustad; jr. IF-P Carter Byron; sr. IF Jaryn Sundby; jr. OF Brady Price; jr. P-OF Kelly Middleton; jr. IF-P Dylan Desmarais.
Coach Varriano says: “I love our pitching staff. That’s the game. We have three No. 1s (Stroh, Feller, Heuchert). Brett is really our No. 1 overall. He throws strikes and has a good deuce. We have some guys to fill in four, five or six, as well, if we get to that point. We score some runs but not enough, in my opinion. We have to put it in play with more authority but kids are just getting back in the swing of it and seeing live pitching for the first time this spring.”
Coach: Tim Gregoire.
2021 record: 9-10.
Key returners: Sr. OF-P Jack Jahnke; jr. IF-P-C Chance Colgrove; jr. IF-P-C Cole Barta; sr. IF-P Dillon Kuntz; sr. OF Sam Strandell; jr. IF-C Zach Erickson.
Top newcomers: Jr. IF-OF Wyatt Wockenfuss; soph. IF-OF Braden Brevik; soph. IF-P Jack Simmers; jr. IF-P Aidan Lee; jr. IF-P Dylan LaMont; soph. IF-OF Noah Morkve; fr. OF-P Matthew Van Sickle.
Coach Gregoire says: “We have a pretty good balance of returning guys and new guys. We’ll lean heavily on our pitching staff. Pitching-wise, we’re pretty comfortable with a lot of guys who can throw strikes. If we can put the ball in play and give ourselves a chance to score runs, we’re going to be okay.”
EGF Senior High
Coach: Dustin Frize.
2021 record: 2-17.
Key returners: Jr. OF-IF-P Tanner Nowacki; sr. OF Finley Lizakowski; sr. IF Carson Belbas; soph. IF-P Drew Carpenter; jr. C-IF Cam Kofstad; sr. IF-P Tom Gust; sr. OP-P Chaycen Ballard; jr. OF-P Luke Blazek.
Top newcomers: Jr. OF-P Caleb Schmiedeberg; soph. C Levi Anderson; soph. IF Grady Magner; fr. IF-P Rylee Hams; fr. IF-P Noah Frize; fr. C Jace Van Eps; sr. OF Evan Skari.
Coach Frize says: “Last year, we asked a lot of our sophomore class who are now juniors, and they’ve got bigger and stronger. The junior class will be looked at as leaders, along with some seniors. We’re only two games in, and they’ve certainly produced for us early on. They’ll lead our pack offensively. Pitching-wise, we have preached pitching to contact and throwing strikes. Only two games in, we have our pitchers on a good rotation. Drew (Carpenter) is 2-0 for us with one win in relief and one complete game. He’s a sophomore but he’s one of our best on the hill. As long as we’re better defensively and make routine plays, we’re going to win a lot more games this year. Competition at practice has been healthy.”
EGF Sacred Heart
Coach: Paul Bethke.
2021 record: 18-6.
Key returners: Sr. Cullen Rohrich (all-section); sr. Isaac Zavarol, sr. Sam Gapp (all-section, conference pitcher of the year); jr. Ethan Arntson; sr. Nick Brundin; sr. Caden Reimer; fr. Parker Erickson (all-section); jr. Breck Bloom; soph. Josiah Sundby.
Top newcomers: Sr. Isaac Telle; fr. David Larson; soph. Mike Gapp; fr. Elliot Arntson.
Coach Bethke says: “I think we’re going to be pretty solid. Lots of guys played a lot last year, so that experience will help. We have quite a few guys who pitched. With this year’s schedule, that’ll be a benefit to us.”