By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
There are always high expectations prior to the start of the St. Michael-Albertville baseball seasons. This season is no different.
STMA is in search of it third state championship and in defense of its fifth conference title over the past seven years, when they finally take the field this spring season.
STMA’s scheduled games, April 2 against Sartell and April 4 at Sauk Rapids were both postponed.
When the weather finally cooperates, expect all-conference senior pitcher Jacob Dzubay to take center stage for first pitch. Dzubay – a south-paw, who finished a year ago with a 7-2 record and 1.26 ERA – will be STMA head coach Paul Schumm’s top returning starter.
Schumm will also look to senior pitcher Tyler Dallum to provide the Knights with a solid lefty-righty combination at the top of the rotation. Dallum is coming off a 3-1 season with an ERA of 2.62.
“Dzubay is just an all-around good pitcher. He’s not going to blow anybody away. But he has a great changeup and he makes a lot of hitters look foolish at times,” said Schumm, entering his 18th season as skipper of the Knights. “Dallum is more of a power pitcher, who has a good curveball and can get his fastball in the low 80’s.”
Both Dallum and Dzubay are two of eight seniors and seven returning starters off last year’s conference champion squad that went 10-2 in the Mississippi 8 and 14-9 overall.
Owen Gammell, Bailey Solberg, Jeff Hackenmueller, Luke Nietfeld, Cody Wiskur and Aaron Michaelson look to provide the numbers and senior leadership gone from last year’s senior class.
STMA graduated nine seniors, including three all-conference players in outfielder Steven Kiesner and infielders Andrew McCarthy and Shawn Morris.
But with the majority of starters back, including all-conference sophomore outfielder Tyler Berg, along with pitchers Dzubay and Dallum – Dzubay was voted M8 Pitcher of Year – the Knights should be heavy favorites once again in both the conference and section.
“We are four pitchers deep and Berg might have been our top player at the end of last year,” Schumm said. “All the teams in our conference have a shot this year. We have a good section. Alexandria, Brainerd and Bemidji are all good. Bemidji has their top pitcher back, but they lost a lot of big hitters.”
It was Bemidji that defeated the Knights 3-2, sending them to the loser’s bracket which ultimately ended with a 6-3 loss to St. Cloud Apollo in last year’s Section 8AAA playoffs. The Lumberjacks went on to advance to Target Field, before losing 1-0 to Eastview in the Class 3A championship game. “We lost to two very good teams last year,” Schumm said.
The Knights return four starters in the infield. Hackenmueller will return as the team’s catcher. He hit one home run and had 11 RBI’s. When not pitching, Dallum (.324 average, 2 HR, 14 RBI) will play first base. Berg (.313, 12 RBI, 12 runs) will play at third base and sophomore Jordan Joseph will likely start at shortstop.
“Hackenmueller is a 2-year starter and so strong behind the plate,” Schumm said. “The catcher position is like the quarterback of the team.”
Solberg will likely be the team’s primary designated hitter. The only question mark early in the year is center and right field positions.
Gammell will play in left field, but Schumm said Berning, Michaelson, Wiskur, Nietfeld, Brandon Rankila and Chris Kartes will fight for final two outfield spots.
The Knights are hoping to get the season underway Monday, April 8 at 4:30 p.m. at home against Osseo. The Knights will be at Joe Faber Field on April 9 to take on St. Cloud Tech at 7 p.m. They open the conference schedule April 11 at 3:25 p.m. at Rogers.
“Absolutely,” said Schumm, on his team aiming for another state tournament appearance. “I like our lineup on paper. We are four pitchers deep and if we can get back to state, I like our chances.”