Returning letterwinners for the Northland Pines baseball team include, front row from left, senior Nathan Hopkins and senior Ben Tilley; and back row, sophomore Lars Evensen and senior Tucker Wittkopf. Missing was senior Patrick Heck. —Staff Photo By GARY RIDDERBUSCH
Returning letterwinners for the Northland Pines baseball team include, front row from left, senior Nathan Hopkins and senior Ben Tilley; and back row, sophomore Lars Evensen and senior Tucker Wittkopf. Missing was senior Patrick Heck. —Staff Photo By GARY RIDDERBUSCH
The Northland Pines baseball team will look to five returning letterwinners to help the team improve on last year’s 5-15 overall record under coach Peter Aerts.

The Eagles graduated six seniors (four everyday start­ers) last year, including four-year varsity starter and conference honorable mention pitcher Josh Meier.

But the Eagles are returning four seniors in Ben Tilley (honorable mention infield), Tucker Wittkopf (honorable mention utility), Nathan Hopkins (honorable mention outfield) and Patrick Heck, along with sophomore Lars Evensen.

“Our four senior returning letterwinners will anchor our offense this year after all hitting .300 or higher last season,” said Aerts. “All four are also going to play major roles on defense with Patrick and Nathan in the outfield, Ben at shortstop, and Tucker playing a utility role. Sophomore Lars Evensen is prepared to take over the bulk of the catching duties, allowing Tucker to move around the diamond and add a dynamic player to other positions.”

Aerts said the seniors are good leaders.

“Even though they all are talented baseball players, the biggest thing our returning varsity letterwinners bring to the team is fantastic leadership. They genuinely care about their teammates, work relentlessly at practice and have fun while competing every day,” said Aerts. “This is great to see from a group of young men and will definitely leave a positive mark for the future of the program.”

Aerts said the team strengths include that senior leadership and overall playing experience. 

“Our depth will also be significantly improved this year with many underclassmen pushing for a varsity spot while we already have a good player group in our junior and senior classes,” he said.

Nonetheless, Aerts said the Eagles are still building a baseball program. 

“The last couple of teams have laid a solid foundation for what Northland Pines baseball is about when it comes to commitment, work ethic and joy of playing the game. This group has continued that but also has more talent than we have seen in this program for a long time,” said Aerts. “They have the potential to really make a big jump this year, if they start to truly believe in each other. Believing in each other is one of the hardest and most important steps for any group of individuals trying to do something not often done in the past.”

Looking at the Great Northern Conference (GNC), Aerts said the Eagles want to continually increase their competitiveness in conference. 

“Last year, we were in a lot of games and proved at times that we can compete with even the best teams in a talented baseball conference,” he said. “This team’s work ethic and the positive culture they are creating should allow them to be even more competitive this year.

“The program continues to improve and be a great place for players to grow in baseball and as young men. The program is growing in talent due to the work the parents and community have put into the youth program years ago under the leadership of Josh Tilley, Jim Beyer and the numerous youth coaches,” said Aerts. “This growth makes it an exciting time to be a baseball coach for Northland Pines.”

Assisting Aerts this spring are Robert Govek, Jeff Janssen, Marc Groth, Isaac Haiduk, Jacob Hodgdon and Ken Jackson.

Two victories

Northland Pines opened the season last Sunday at the Woodside Sports Complex in Wisconsin Dells on their turf fields, playing a doubleheader against Manawa.

The Eagles beat Manawa 5-3 in game one and 12-10 in game two.

“We put together great at-bats in game one and found ways on base,” said Aerts. “We utilized our speed, stealing eight bases. It was a great start by Nathan Hopkins on the mound, giving us six innings without a walk. Lars Evensen came in to close the final inning and attacked hitters, only needing eight pitches.

Hopkins led Pines at the plate, going 2-for-3 with one stolen base and two RBIs. Logan Hissom was 2-for-2, with a triple, stolen base and one RBI. Tilley was 1-for-2, with two walks, three stolen bases and two runs scored. Evensen was 1-for-3 with a triple and Bradley Stephens was 1-for-3 with a run scored and one RBI.

Hopkins went six innings on the mound, allowing six hits and three earned runs. He struck out four and had no walks. Evensen got the save with one strikeout and no walks.

“The second game we were able to get an early lead and then move guys around. Mitch McCanles and Bradley Stephens were lights out on the mound and threw fantastic, both not walking a batter,” said Aerts.

The game got tight at the end and Sam Johnson came in to relieve with the tying run at the plate and striking out the only two batters he faced to end the game. 

“These games were a great experience for our team to get out early in the season,” said Aerts. “Overall our pitchers really showed great stuff today while staying in the strike zone. Our defense also stepped up and made a lot of plays. There were a lot of great things to build off of heading into the start of the season.”

Tilley led the Eagles offense going 2-for-2 with a triple, two walks, two runs and one RBI. Hopkins was 1- for-1 with a walk, two stolen bases, one run and one RBI. Johnson had two walks, scored two runs and had two stolen bases.

On the mound, McCanles pitched two innings, allowing no hits, no walks, and he had two strikeouts. Stephens pitched one inning, allowing one hit. He had one strikeout and no walks. Johnson pitched two-thirds of an inning with no hits, no walks and two strikeouts.

Pines, 2-0 overall, was scheduled to open the GNC with a doubleheader at Antigo on Tuesday of this week. Pines is scheduled to play at Crandon this Friday, April 12, in a nonconference game at 4 p.m., through snow is in the forecast for the North Woods this Thursday and Friday.

The Eagles home opener is scheduled for Monday, April 15, against Laona-Wabeno, at 5 p.m.