Defense, pitching looking strong for Rangers
Forest Lake baseball fans are about to see a wave of new faces this year, as the Rangers graduated eight seniors from last year’s state-qualifying squad.
The Rangers have big shoes to fill, but head coach Tal Gravelle is confident his crew of 12 seniors, three juniors and one sophomore has the right mix of experience, talent and leadership to battle for the section title again in 2014. Seniors Clayton Dahly, Brett Gravelle and Skyler Winning were named the 2104 captains, but Tal Gravelle said all upperclassmen are stepping up.
“All the seniors have shown great leadership in a good, competitive environment,” he said. “This is a very close-knit group, and it’s a fun group.”
Returning to the Ranger varsity lineup with starting experience are Winning, Dahly, Brett Gravelle and fellow seniors Alex Egle, Joey Vacinek, Dan Wassman and Grayson Stout.
Tal Gravelle will look to Egle and Winning to anchor the outfield, while Dahly is expected to replace now-Division I athlete Beau Fandel at catcher. Vacinek will see time at first base along with Stout, while Brett Gravelle will move from second base to run the infield at shortstop.
Wassman and Vacinek will be workhorses for the Rangers on the mound this year. Wassman’s fastball, breaking ball with movement and command of the strike zone will be weapons.
Vacinek, a Division I commit, will use his powerful fastball to accompany a solid breaking ball. Brett Gravelle is set at the third pitcher spot, and throws an array of pitches from curveballs and fastballs to sliders and change-ups.
Dahly, seniors Zach Voss and Paul Stehr, and junior Brandon Rogers could also work their way onto the mound. Voss could otherwise see time at third base, while Rogers and Stehr will also stay in the infield when they’re not pitching.
Tal Gravelle expects senior Drew Svendsen to see time behind the plate if Dahly puts in an appearance on the mound and for senior Matt Savage to hold his own at second base.
Coach Gravelle said he isn’t worried about his guys in the field, despite losing numerous pitchers last season.
“I’m expecting strong defense again this year,” he said. “And I’m hoping our pitchers will do pretty well — it’s important we control our pitches.”
The head coach admitted needing improvement on the offensive end. Last season the Rangers had six hitters with batting averages over .300, including two over .400. All six graduated.
“The real unknown is hitting,” Gravelle said. “Especially when we have guys who don’t have a lot of experience in handling the adjustment of varsity hitting.”
Egle posted the highest batting average returning from last season at .273 and the highest returning on-base percentage at .488.
Weather has already been a factor this spring. Forest Lake’s first two games – against Roseville and Park – were postponed, but Gravelle said inclement weather won’t catch the guys off guard.
“Last year we had to adjust on the fly — it was a new experience,” Gravelle said. “We are much more prepared this year, and we just don’t focus on it. We’re mixing up practice a lot and trying to do fun, competitive things and having shorter practices to stay motivated.”