Jeff Lindsay’s first season as Prairie City-Monroe baseball coach ended with 18 wins and a fourth place finish in the Heart of Iowa Conference.
In his second season, Lindsay hopes for a little more.
“I want to contend for the conference,” Lindsay said. “I think if we are consistent, we can put ourselves in a good position. It will be tough, but the guys are ready to get after it and make a push.”
PCM welcomes back a handful of starters, and brings back its top two pitchers from last season. Throw in a group of talented youngsters and Lindsay likes the makeup of his team.
Senior Noah Henkenius and sophomore Derek Brown are back as the anchors on the pitching staff.
Henkenius was 6-2 with an earned run average of 1.32 last year. He also had two saves and 36 strikeouts in 53 innings. Brown was 3-2 with an ERA of 1.89 in his first season as a full-time starter. Brown fanned a team-high 43 batters in 37 innings.
“I expect them to be as good or better as they were last year,” Lindsay said. “Derek had a good year of experience and learned what it takes to pitch at the varsity level. Noah is level handed. You don’t know when he is winning or losing. He’s going to give us everything he has.”
After Henkenius and Brown, Lindsay expects sophomore Dane Owens to be the No. 3 starter. Juniors Preston Van Wyk and Reed Worth also could see time on the mound, and junior Brayton Van Dyke is back as the team’s closer.
Van Dyke had six saves and a 1.47 ERA last year. Owens’ had an ERA of 2.29 in 18-plus innings.
The rest of the pitching staff includes sophomores Trevor Bistline and Colten Johnson and freshmen Andrew Mitchell and Grant Landgrebe.
“We’ve got a really nice blend of players,” Lindsay said. “We’ve got a lot of returning players and upperclassmen who understand the game and understand what is asked of them. And they are doing a good job pushing the younger guys along too.”
Offensively, the top two hitters from last year are back in Worth and Van Wyk. Worth led the team with a .374 average and Van Wyk was second at .344. They both scored 24 runs, Worth tallied a team-best 24 RBIs and Van Wyk stole a team-high 23 bases.
Van Dyke is the other returner who batted better than .300 a year ago. He hit . 309 with 19 runs and 16 RBIs.
Lindsay feels like hitting can be one of the Mustangs’ strengths this season.
“I think we have some guys who can hit the ball,” Lindsay said. “We just have to keep things compact and drive the ball. We can’t try to be home run hitters. We have some speed, too, and hitting the ball in the air doesn’t help that.”
With graduation, PCM has openings in both corner outfield spots, first base, third base and catcher.
Van Wyk returns as the center fielder. He’ll be joined in the outfield by juniors Wes Cummings and Olin Meinders. Meinders started 17 games last year and had 17 runs and 12 RBIs.
Lindsay expects Owens to play first base and Brown to play third base when they are not pitching. Worth can fill in for anyone on the field when it is their turn to pitch.
“Reed is like a Swiss Army knife,” Lindsay said. “He can play wherever we need him to play.”
The one position Lindsay is still uncertain about is catcher. Senior Colton Warrick and freshman Caleb Duinink are competing for playing time.
“That’s the biggest question mark,” Lindsay said. “We’ll take it day by day and see how it plays out.”
The Mustangs, who went 18-10 overall and 9-7 in the HOIC last year, were solid defensively last year. They committed around 2.25 errors per game.
“I feel good and comfortable with everything,” Lindsay said. “I think we have a nice team. I think all three areas of the game can shine through. We just need to keep working every day.”
Lindsay expects the team to be better than last year, but the win total may not show it. That has to do with a few tournaments PCM has annually competed in being cancelled and a few other teams dropping their games with the Mustangs.
There are 25 games on the Mustangs’ schedule. The first is a home game with South Tama County at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Prairie City.