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Cardinal baseball welcomes new flock of talent in 2024

May 15—The team Derek Wrage inherited for his first season as head coach of the Newton baseball team featured high expectations, eight seniors and a few others who had multiple years of varsity experience.

His second squad is almost an entirely new group, but Wrage is excited to get things rolling in 2024.

"The expectations were high last year, and we probably didn't meet them if we're being honest," Wrage said. "We looked at the things that group needed to be that team everyone thought they could be. And we've tried so hard to instill those things with the younger guys."

Finn Martin

Last year's team went 12-18 and finished 7-14 in a loaded Little Hawkeye Conference.

While Grinnell left the conference in the offseason, the league expects to stay strong this summer.

That will make things even more challenging for a Cardinals' roster that includes 12 returning varsity innings on the mound and only three players with more than 10 starts last season.

"It's an entirely new group. We lost eight seniors and eight players who played a lot of baseball together," Wrage said. "We have some guys who work really hard and want to take that next step to fill those roles. There are a lot of learning moments to take. Sometimes we have to stop and do things slowly unlike last year with a more mature and experienced group."

Senior Eli Stewart started all 30 games a year ago, while junior Skyler Milheiser started 29 and sophomore Finn Martin made 28 starts.

Skyler Milheiser

Juniors Derek Wermager, John Frietsch and Cade Bauer combined to start 10 games.

Stewart, Milheiser and Frietsch will be this year's captains, too.

Stewart batted .272 last year and had an on-base percentage of .370. He cranked out four doubles and finished with 12 RBIs, eight walks and 32 total bases.

Milheiser had an OBP of .353. He added 10 runs and led the squad with 16 walks.

Martin earned honorable mention all-conference recognition as a freshman after batting .282 with 11 walks and eight RBIs. His OBP was .378.

"We are looking for (Martin) to take a bigger step this year," Wrage said. "He'll move around in the outfield depending on who throws."

Braelyn Parks

Martin is expected to be joined in the outfield by senior Braelyn Parks and Frietsch. Wrage said a few other younger players also have a chance to log some innings out there, including freshmen Mason Mendez and Kreytein Wickliffe."

"Frietsch's only start last year came in the playoff game," Wrage said. "He probably should have gotten one before that. We'll fill in with whoever is swinging the bat well at the time, and we'll mix and match depending on who's throwing, too."

Milheiser takes over as the team's primary catcher and he will be joined in the infield by Stewart, Bauer, Wermager and sophomore Gabe Otto.

Last year's Cardinals batted .247, had an OBP of .348 and stole 31 bases. Their fielding percentage was .970 and the pitchers had an earned run average of 3.82.

The only four pitchers to record at least one out on the mound last summer were Stewart, Frietsch, Parks and junior Creighton Andrew.

John Frietsch

Stewart won his only start of the season, tossed a total of six innings and had an ERA of 3.50.

"Last year we had like four guys who carried the pitching load for us," Wrage said. "We have a lot of guys who are capable of throwing. We have options. That's the best part."

Wrage said a focus in the preseason practices has been on preparation and discipline.

"We need to have a pre-pitch routine," Wrage said. "What are we doing mentally before every pitch to make ourselves successful?"

Newton opened its season with a 4-2 loss to Saydel on Monday but defeated BGM, 10-1, on Tuesday.

The Cardinals (1-1) host PCM at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday on the team's new baseball field. That game was moved from Prairie City to Newton earlier this week. Newton goes to Bondurant-Farrar on Friday.

Gabe Otto