Second-year head coach Brad Kahler didn’t feel like his team hit enough in the offseason leading into his first summer as Newton head baseball coach.
That turned out to be one of the reasons the Cardinals struggled at the plate during its 9-20 campaign last summer.
The Cardinals batted .231 as a team and struck out 214 times at the plate a year ago. But Kahler said his squad looks much different so far this season and he hopes it translates on the field when the games begin.
“Everyone knows that’s what this program has struggled with in the past,” Kahler said. “But I feel like it’s 10 fold right now. We have been hitting a lot.
“I can see in practice they look a lot different at the plate. Will it transfer over into the games? We’ll see.”
Kahler’s second season also will be his last as he officially resigned from his post to become the next Activities Director and Dean of Students at Glidden-Ralston starting later this summer.
But his final season includes the exact same varsity roster from last year along with some key additions who could help Newton reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2018 and for just the second time in the past six seasons.
“We have everyone back from last year, which is nice,” Kahler said. “I have never had everyone back before. It’s kind of unique situation.
“Hopefully this year we can push to win 10 games, compete more in the conference and maybe make a push for state. Hopefully we can do some big things in my last year.”
The Cardinals scored 3.7 runs and committed 1.75 errors per game last year. The team also stole just 13 bases in 29 games and had a team earned run average of 4.96.
The top offensive player was senior Braydon Chance. He led the team with a .350 batting average last year and also registered a team-best six doubles and 16 RBIs. His on-base percentage was a team-high .419, he drew 10 walks and scored 14 runs, which ranked second on the squad.
Kael Swarts is the second of five seniors. He batted .286 with nine runs and 11 RBIs last year. His OBP was .363.
Chance is one of the team’s outfielders and Swarts likely will play shortstop when he’s not pitching.
Chance, Swarts and juniors Turner Williams, Riley Mouchka and Tade Vanderlaan will be the five primary starting pitchers.
Williams, who is the only lefty, had the best numbers last year. He was 1-5 but had an earned run average of 3.06 in 34 1/3 innings.
Kahler plans to use four starters throughout the season. The battle for the fourth starting spot could come down to Swarts and Chance and the one who doesn’t start likely will be the primary closer.
“Not much separates those guys. I feel comfortable with all of them,” Kahler said. “We probably had our best lineup on the field when Turner pitched.”
Williams struck out a team-best 28 batters last year, while Vanderlaan’s 35 1/3 innings and three wins led the squad.
Joining Swarts in the infield will be senior Evan Grimm and Williams at first base and juniors Brody Bauer, Kacey Sommars and Jordan Killmer and sophomore Eli Stewart are battling for playing time at the other spots.
Killmer played at Southeast Polk last season.
Junior Drew Thompson is back as the team’s starting catcher and freshman Skyler Milheiser will be his backup.
Milheiser and Stewart are the only underclassmen on the varsity roster this summer.
“It will take me the month of May playing some different lineups to figure out who is going to play where and what lineups are best for this team,” Kahler said.
Chance will be joined in the outfield by Vanderlaan and Mouchka. Sommars and Bauer will be in the outfield if they don’t win a job in the infield.
Williams batted .274 last year with 10 runs and 11 walks. His OBP was .371.
Sommars scored a team-best 20 runs, registered 10 RBIs, drew 12 walks and batted .244 with a .356 OBP.
Stewart batted .239 last summer with 10 RBIs. Thompson drew a team-best 19 walks in his first year as a starter and Grimm was second on the team with 14 RBIs.
The other two seniors are Garret Beerends and Jayden Wambold and the rest of the juniors include Trevor Klonglan, Alex Thomason and Noah Tibben.
The high school baseball season got started a week earlier this summer and games begin this week across the state.
Newton will play Saydel at 7:30 p.m. on Monday in Des Moines. The Cardinals, who were 4-17 in the conference last summer, go to PCM to play the Mustangs at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Prairie City.
Both of those games were originally slated to be played at home, but the field is not quite ready to go after damage from this spring’s tornado took out a chunk of the fence behind home plate and the visiting dugout.
“The early start is different. The best practice is playing. That’s the best simulation,” Kahler said. “The first home date is on schedule for June 6. That’s a doubleheader against Norwalk. The plan is to play on that date as of right now. They are still figuring some things out.”