BY DAVID PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
It is rare when Delano baseball returns so many players with varsity experience after having senior-dominated squads the previous two years.
The experience may help with the goal of getting to the state tournament, something Delano has accomplished the past three seasons. The formula for success was to win with seniors who mostly had one year on varsity. Then reload with another senior group who had been waiting for the chance.
Last year, however, coach Dan Paulson started six sophomores at times when the young team finished 20-8 overall, capturing the state Class AA consolation title for a second straight season. The Tigers claimed second at state the year prior.
Top seniors returning are Kurtis Burley (pitcher/outfielder), Adam Schleper (infield), Zach Muchenhirn (pitcher/outfielder) and Jon Dahl (outfielder). Returning juniors who made varsity contributions are Christian Triplett (first base/pitcher), Justin Oja (pitcher), Hunter Hart (pitcher/catcher/infielder) and Toby Hanson (catcher).
This season’s crew of seniors who are new to varsity include Vance Chorley (infield/pitcher), Taylor Larson (infield), Sam Fink (infield), John Celander (catcher), Sam Harris (third base/pitcher) and Keenan Lindquist (outfield). Juniors new to varsity are Tyler Hannan (outfield/pitcher) and Noah Stone (outfield/pitch).
“We will have a strong group of seniors to lead us this year,” said Paulson. “If we can create positive chemistry in the dugout and on the field, we will improve our chance of success. We have to pitch well, play sound defensively and focus on quality at-bats each game. If we can do this consistently, we will improve our chances to be successful as we progress through the season.”
Delano plays in a competitive Wright County Conference, winning two of the past three titles. Last year the Tigers lost twice to Holy Family Catholic, who defeated St. Cloud Cathedral in the state title game. Delano lost to Cathedral to open the state tourney.
Hanson was third in hitting last year at .373 after earning All-State tournament honors as a ninth-grade catcher. He drove in 18 runs last year, second most on the team.
Muchenhirn batted .341 and went 6-2 as a key pitcher, posting a 1.43 earned run average. Hart batted .295 on 18 hits. Triplett drove home 11 runs on 15 hits.
Delano had three standout starters last year with Muchenhirn and the graduated Cody Mathisen and Tyler Wolfe. Schleper pitched in five games, going 2-1 with 13 strikeouts and four walks. Paulson said he has 13 players who can pitch and there is great competition for starting spots.
The coach said tough teams in the conference, in no particular order, will be Holy Family, Hutchinson, Waconia, Dassel/Cokato, Annandale, Litchfield, Orono, Mound-Westonka and New London/Spicer.
Assistant coaches are Jeff Olson, Mark Schramel, Nate Peterson, Corey Lahr, Paul Jaunich and Darren Knight.
The Tigers will attempt to open the season at Mound-Westonka Tuesday, April 9 before heading to play DC Thursday, April 11 and Waconia Tuesday, April 16. The first home game is Thursday, April 18 against defending state champ Holy Family.