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Pella Christian baseball looking to build off state tournament appearance

May 15—PELLA — It was quite the turnaround for Pella Christian head coach Chris Fynaardt and the Eagle baseball team last season. Fynaardt entered his first season last year and helped PC turnaround a 9-19 squad that lost six starters to an 18-17 state tournament team that knocked out the four-time defending state champion Van Meter in the substate final.

Fynaardt and the Eagles will try to build off that momentum in 2023 and bring it into this summer with a team that will have a couple of big shoes to fill.

Leading the group of returnees will be seniors Caleb Van Arendonk, Luke Fynaardt and Trevor Veenstra and juniors Grant Kelderman, Eliot Menninga and Connor Van Zee.

Van Arendonk earned second team all-state honors playing a great second base but also hitting .351 with an .448 OBP with 12 doubles, three triples, two home runs and a team-high 30 RBIs. He will be the top returning bat to the lineup this summer.

Fynaardt started 35 games last year and had an up and down year at the plate and also brings some pitching experience with a 4.29 ERA and 20 Ks in 16 1/3 innings last year.

Veenstra hit .250 in 36 ABs last year and could slot in as a key late inning reliever this season after posting 14 strikeouts in 11 innings in 2023.

Kelderman will lead the pitching staff as the top returning starter after having a 4-5 record with a very good 1.98 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 46 innings. Expect him to log a lot of innings this summer while also being another key hitter that hit .260 with 16 RBIs last season.

Menninga and Van Zee will both get starts behind the dish for PC. Menninga hit .275 with 15 RBIs in 20 starts last year while Van Zee started 28 games but was limited to a .145 BA. Both should also see some time on the mound.

Joining that group will be an interesting addition of newcomers that are great athletes that haven't played baseball since junior high in seniors Tysen DeVries, Isaiah Breems, Trae Van Maanen and junior Ethan Van Arendonk. Sophomores Brecken Ritzert and Garrett Wielard got limited time last year and will look to contribute right away at the varsity level while fellow sophomores Ben Van Wyngarden, Logan Gallaher and Toby Belzer will also look to find a role on varsity.

"It will be interesting to see how much of an impact the four players that haven't played since junior high can have," Fynaardt said. "They are all excellent athletes, but baseball can be a tough sport, especially with that much time off. We're hoping they can find their groove at the plate and provide us with some much needed help in the outfield, having lost all four outfielders from last year. With a few kids that haven't seen live pitching for 3-4 years, the bats may start off slow but by the end of the year we hope to see a lineup that's strong from top to bottom."

While the bats may take a couple of games to get heated up, Fynaardt feels good about his pitching in defense as Kelderman and others will have to replace 22 starts and 128 of their 233 innings from last year.

"One of our strengths we think will be our pitching," Fynaardt said. "We lost a lot of innings from last year from two graduating seniors, but we return six quality pitchers, led by starting pitcher Grant Kelderman. Luke Fynaardt, Connor Van Zee, Eliot Menninga and Brecken Ritzert will battle it out for the remaining starting spots and Trevor Veenstra will serve as an effective closer. Our fielding should also be a strength, as Tysen DeVries and Ethan Van Arendonk have the speed to cover a lot of ground in the outfield and Caleb Van Arendonk and Garrett Wielard will form a solid middle infield. Luke Fynaardt returns at first base and Trevor Veenstra and Grant Kelderman return at third base. Eliot Menninga and Connor Van Zee provide us with two solid defensive catchers behind the plate, as well as also helping in the infield."

Pella Christian finished 7-14 in the tough Little Hawkeye Conference last year and this year they will feature not only a tough LHC slate, but also some good tests against Class 1A, 2A and 3A non-conference competition that will get them ready for the postseason.

"In the non-conference, we've got a nice mix of different class teams to play," Fynaardt said. "Once again, the Little Hawkeye Conference will help prepare us for postseason play. It's an excellent conference where we can get 18 games against teams from higher classes that will teach us what we need to do to play winning baseball. Whether or how soon we learn that will determine our record heading into the postseason."

Colin Peters can be reached at 641-672-2581, by email at cpeters@oskyherald.com or on Twitter @ColinPetersOH.