Graduating five standout seniors is never easy for any program. And it won’t be easy for PCM’s baseball team in 2020.
But fourth-year head coach Jeff Lindsay has a strong core back from a 17-5 season and the rest of the roster is incredibly versatile.
“Any time you graduate five senior starters, you wonder how to fill those positions,” Lindsay said.
“We have a nice core of experience back, but we’ll have to see what the rest of the lineup looks like.”
The Mustangs are just happy to be on the field at all as the COVID-19 pandemic nearly ruined the summer sports seasons in Iowa like it did the spring seasons earlier this year.
Practices started late and there won’t be as many games as usual, but teams are preparing to start the regular season on June 15. Lindsay, his coaching staff and the players are doing their part in making sure they can finish the season without any hiccups.
“I think everyone has adapted pretty well,” said Lindsay in regards to the guidelines and restrictions laid out by the Iowa High School Athletic Association. “We understand that there will be mistakes. We are used to the way things used to be. We just make sure to remind each other in a positive way.”
The Mustangs lost five senior seniors but welcome back first team all-district senior pitcher Derek Brown and first team all-conference junior infielder Sage Burns to the fold.
Senior Dane Owens and junior catcher Caleb Duinink also are back as starters.
Brown, who is headed to Iowa Western Community College in the fall, is the ace pitcher on what is expected to be a strong pitching staff.
Brown was 6-2 in eight starts last year. His earned run average was 1.49 as he fanned 58 batters and walked 23 in 42.3 innings.
At the plate, Brown hit .259 with eight runs, one homer, two doubles, 11 RBIs and eight walks. He was a second team all-conference selection in the Heart of Iowa Conference.
Burns was a first team all-conference player and a second team all-district standout after leading the Mustangs with a .439 batting average. He finished with 14 runs, four doubles, 13 RBIs, four walks and seven hit by pitches. He got on base 51 percent of the time.
Owens, who will play for Mount Mercy in college, is expected to play every day after breaking out at the plate last year. He batted .351 with 17 runs, four doubles, 17 RBIs and nine walks. He got on base 42 percent of the time.
Duinink will play most of his innings behind the plate but also could see action at first base.
Last year, he batted .297 with two runs, one homer, three doubles, 15 RBIs, seven walks and seven hit by pitches. He reached base 43 percent of the time.
The rest of the roster is interesting. And may not be the same from game to game.
Lindsay said he plans to use seven pitchers, including Brown, Burns, juniors Andrew Mitchell and Beau Webb, senior Kolten Johnson and sophomore Durant Van Dyke. Senior Gabe Steenhoek is the closer.
Brown, Mitchell and Webb started a combined 17 games last year and went 16-3 as a trio.
Mitchell made seven starts and threw 36 innings, finishing 4-1 with an ERA of 3.53 and 32 strikeouts. Webb was 4-0 in his eight appearances, finishing with a 3.35 ERA and nine strikeouts in 23 innings.
Steenhoek’s season was cut short last year due to injury. But he had an ERA of 2.74 in nearly eight innings. He struck out nine.
“It will be interesting to see how it shakes out because I am not sure what the depth will look like yet,” Lindsay said. “My concern is how well are we going to recover. We don’t want to overcook them early. We may have to use more guys in each game.”
Lindsay said the outfield rotation will likely be five deep. Those five include Johnson, Webb, junior Connor Bennett and sophomores Cade Lindsay and Matt Rosonke.
The infield features very versatile players. Brown and Van Dyke can play first or third, Burns can play second, shortstop or third, Lindsay and Steenhoek can both play second and Mitchell is likely the starting shortstop when he’s not pitching.
Junior Dylan Warrick is the backup catcher but could get some innings behind the plate when and if Duinink gets time at first base.
“These kids wanted to play at a young age so they learned other positions when their primary positions were being played by someone else,” Lindsay said. “They changed positions to get on the field and that will help us now with versatility. We have options.”
The Mustangs committed only 33 errors in 22 games last year. Lindsay feels like his team will be all right defensively again this season and the pitching should be a strength.
The hitting may take longer as several guys who have not seen varsity pitching will be expected to step into varsity roles.
“There are lots of questions still, but they work hard and get along with each other,” Lindsay said. “We’ll make a lot of pitching decisions game by game. The hitting is a work in progress. We will see where we are after a few games.”
The roster features 28 players, six of which are seniors and 10 are eighth-graders or freshmen.
The COVID-19 pandemic guidelines and changes for 2020 have taken some getting used to and numbers weren’t affected by it.
Lindsay said he hasn’t heard of any concerns or complaints about the restrictions either.
“I have tried to find the best possible approach with it,” Lindsay said. “The first couple of days took some extra time. It was different. But it is worth it if it means we get to play baseball.
“They are happy to resume some kind of normalcy.”
The Mustangs are scheduled to play 15 games this summer. They’ll play each Heart of Iowa Conference team twice and then play one non-conference game against Clarke.