Pitching, fielding will be key for Blue Devils baseball

Staff report
“If we pitch and defend, we compete.”
Margaretville’s baseball coach John Bernhardt knows his team is young and his roster is thin. Even so, Bernhardt expects his Blue Devils to compete.

Bernhardt believes baseball success begins with solid pitching. The Margaretville coach feels that in junior Kyle Short, his team has a pitching ace.
“The role of a pitching ace is about more than throwing the ball,” Bernhardt explains. It’s about the attitude you bring with you when you climb the hill to pitch,” he concludes.

Tough to hit
Short’s sophomore year numbers on the mound give Bernhardt and his team hope. In just over 30 innings last year, Short struck out almost two batters per inning, had a 4:1 K/BB ratio, and logged a 1.54 ERA. Bernhardt is hoping his ace can go deeper in starts with a similar pitch count and increase his workload to 45 innings or more.

Bernhardt also likes what he sees from his number two starter Mitch Hull.
“Last season Mitch didn’t see himself as a pitcher. This year, he wants the ball. That’s huge,” notes Bernhardt.

According to his coach, location of the fastball, an emerging second pitch and a bulldog-like work ethic from Hull would go a long way for the Blue Devils.
The third leg of Margaretville’s pitching tripod is Matt VanValkenburg. Bernhardt wants to use his left-handed sophomore exclusively as a closer.

“Matt thinks like a pitcher, he’s crafty and his ball has movement,” Bernhardt says.
The Margaretville coach is hoping VanValkenburg can close games once or twice a week and earn some saves.

Bernhardt knows with games coming in bunches, his pitching staff will need to stretch beyond three. Senior Danny Goodell will be an occasional starter.

“The ball has jump leaving Danny’s hand,” Bernhardt notes. If he can locate, the Margaretville coach feels Goodell can be effective. Sophomores Cooper Reither and Eric Mathiesen and freshman Danny Conroy should also log time on the hill.

≤strong>Lots of mound help
“With only 10 guys it’s almost like everyone has to be a pitcher,” laughs Bernhardt.
The play of sophomore catcher Cooper Reither excites the Margaretville coach. Reither had a solid year behind the plate as a freshman and his coach predicts even better days ahead.
“Cooper is not just catching the ball this spring, he’s thinking more like a catcher and actively working with the pitchers.”

Effective pitching requires solid defensive play. Bernhardt knows to maximize good work on the mound requires executing plays in the field. That’s a major priority for the Blue Devils this spring.
“Last year we committed twice as many errors as the teams we faced, and we graduated three pretty experienced seniors,” says Bernhardt. The Margaretville coach has underclassmen at every infield position but emphasizes that with hard work and repetition the Blue Devils’ defensive effort can improve.

strong defenders
When they are not pitching, Hull and Short are excellent defensive centerfielders. Short has great range and a cannon for an arm at shortstop. Goodell returns in left field and sophomore Alex Serdiouk will be tracking down balls in rightfield.

Bernhardt loves VanValkenburg’s slick fielding glove at first base, an important asset with a young infield. The Bush brothers, junior Brandon and sophomore Ethan, are working out at second base. Brandon played there last year.

Sophomore Eric Mathiesen will handle the duty at shortstop.
“Eric has solid infield mechanics and can do the job,” Bernhardt notes. “A little bit of confidence and the understanding that miscues are a part of the game,” will determine how well Eric does defensively this season.

Bernhardt likes freshman third baseman Danny Conroy’s enthusiasm for the game and his arm around the hot corner.

Offensively, good plate discipline and timely hitting will be important. Short and Reither reached base in one of every two at bats last year. Hull hit .375 and Reither batted at a .319 clip. Bernhardt feels if his team can pitch and defend and hold down its opponents, run production the offense can scratch out enough runs to be competitive.

“I’m really not worried about who we play or how many games we win,” finishes Bernhardt. “If we learn some baseball, play smart, and get a chance to enjoy the satisfaction of playing competitive baseball games, the rest takes care of itself.”