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Ridgewater gets outdoors early

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sports Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The Ridgewater College baseball team opened its outdoor Minnesota season on Monday at Dick Putz Field against the St. Cloud State junior varsity.

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The March 22 debut outdoors in Central Minnesota is likely the earliest ever for the Warriors. The Willmar fields are still drying. Ridgewater head coach Joel Barta and a member of the park and rec department checked out Swansson Orange and Baker Fields on Tuesday.

Though Orange, north of Willmar Avenue, has a higher elevation, Baker Field is closer to being ready because it has better drainage. If the weather stays dry, the fields will host a four-team MCAC cross-over tournament on April 2.

With the Willmar Stingers set to open June 3 at Bill Taunton Stadium, Orange will be relied on more than ever. The field has been upgraded with new sod to eliminate the infield lip and the first- and third-base paths narrowed to the eight-foot standard and the edges re-sodded.

Fans will note a new concrete sidewalk leading from the parking lot to a broad apron behind the backstop. Willmar Avenue has also been widened, curbs built and a turning lane added to the fields that will improve traffic flow during a busy summer that will be capped by the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Tournament.

Warriors should be improved

Joel Barta said his second team at Ridgewater will be "significantly" improved over the debut year. In his third head-coaching stop, Barta had to put together virtually an all-new 25-player roster last spring in a couple of months. All but one returnee was a first-year college player.

This edition lists seven sophomores, including pitchers Ryan Speltz (Winona), Chris Braaten (Sunburg) and Matt Christensen (Aitkin). There are two freshmen who started on the basketball team and who may pitch in Nathan Nietfeld (Paynesville) and Mike Weber (Sauk Rapids/Pierz).

Area standouts Shane Kampsen (Paynesville) and Austen Hadley (New London) are off to fast start. Kampsen is hitting .581 and Hadley .356 after the 10-game set at Dodgertown and a twin bill on Monday at St. Cloud. Sophomore outfielder Luke Frauendienst (Henderson) is hitting at a .457 clip and Benji Hager (Owatonna) is at .368.

John Sawatzky, a freshman catcher from Willmar, is competing for the back-up role behind Kampsen. Barta plans to redshirt second baseman Josh Oestrich of Willmar. "He's a top student who will go on to a four year college and I don't want him to waste a year of eligibility here while getting 10 at bats his first year," said Barta.

Developing a deep pitching staff is a priority. The schedule calls for 30 games between April 2 and May 8. After that comes the four-day state/region playoff at St. Cloud, which will take the eight leading teams from the three divisions of the MCAC and a Wisconsin representative. One team will advance to the national tournament at Tyler, Texas.

Lady Warriors reload for season

The Ridgewater College Lady Warriors lost eight players from a team that finished second in the MCAC to Rochester Community and Technical College, but there's a lot to lift hopes for the 2010 season.

The squad went 3-1 against Division III competition in Florida (3-3 overall).

"We should have strong hitting with both speed and power," said head coach Todd Thorstad. "I like us up the middle."

Freshmen Brandi Bodin (Clara City) at catcher, Emily Roelike (Belgrade) at shortstop and Brooke Henderson, off Pipestone's consecutive state tournament teams, in center field look like an outstanding threesome through the middle. Nicole Blizel, who played in the state tournament for Maple Lake, could be the second sacker or perhaps Tiffany Volk (Madison). But Volk may be stationed in the outfield where she's shown excellent range.

Listed at pitcher are sophomores Jodi Merritt (Porter), Kristin Kahle (Winsted) and Molly Anderson (Granite Falls), plus freshman Jazmin Petersen (Atwater).

Sara Beyer (Morris), who played basketball for the college, follows her brother here, All-America slugger Adam Beyer.

Thorstad has 14 doubleheaders scheduled through May 1 leading into the state tournament in St. Cloud. The squad planned to have its first outdoor practice this week.

On the fly

- Scott Hyland (WHS 1986) ended his third year as head coach of the women's basketball team at Texas A&M-Kingsville by bowing out in the first round of the Lone Star Conference Tournament. The Javelinas finished 18-10. The year before the program went 16-11, the most wins in eight years and earning Hyland Southern Division Coach of the Year honors.

- Bonnie Henrickson (WHS '81) has the Kansas Jayhawks in the WNIT playoffs for a third straight year after going 5-11 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks are 17-15 overall after defeating Creighton 71-68 in the second round and will play at Illinois State tonight. Henrickson's teams are 6-1 in post-season the last two years. The WNIT went from 48 teams to 64 this winter.

- Sam Esboldt, a senior guard for Willmar, will play in the Orth Memorial All-Jamboree Basketball event Saturday in Bird Island. His name was inadvertently left off the list of area players participating.

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Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
(320) 214-4334
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