Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Al Rose
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Rebels baseball will work to refine specific skills


March 30, 2017

Al Rose

The Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels baseball team is ready for a new season. Their first game is at Mora on Friday, April 7.

The Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels baseball team is working every day in practice to focus on refining one of the specific skill sets of pitching, fielding or hitting with the goal of reaching peaks in each of those skills by the end of the season.

The 2015 team had a 13-8 record and the 2016 team had the daunting task of rebuilding as it lost 10 seniors. The 2016 Rebels finished with a record of 10-13 after beating Rush City in the first round of playoff action and almost upsetting Esko before getting eliminated by Duluth Marshall. The 2017 Rebels are minus seven seniors, but only three of those players were impact players.

Matt Niedzielski will be in his fifth season as the Rebels' skipper. "Bryce Rushmeyer is our junior varsity coach and Scott Battaglia is an assistant and it's five years for them now, too," said Niedzielski. "The team manager is Adam Dragicevich," the coach added. "Our number of players is about the same and we still don't do cuts. We let that work out as it has done in the past, with some players choosing to leave," he said. Former MLWR stalwart catcher Spencer Clough is with the team doing his coaching practicum. "I'm majoring in psychology," shared Clough. "I'll be finishing that up this spring at UMD. I would like to be a high school advisor and I definitely want to coach," Clough stated.

Coach Niedzielski is looking forward to being able to move more runners. "We had some good results with bunting last year and we used that to beat Cloquet," mused the coach. "That's becoming almost a lost art in the majors. Since that has worked for us, we will still use small ball. That will be part of our game as it has been in the past. We did not steal as much last year as we have in the past but now with more knowledge, we will be wanting to do more of that. A lot of success in stealing depends upon knowing the game situations and having the intuition that comes with time. Our team chemistry is very good. We are already putting forth the efforts to be more of an offensive threat. One main goal is to raise our team batting average," stated the coach. "What we are going to be doing is to each day focus on improving one aspect of the game, for example pitching, fielding or hitting. We want to reach our peak at each one of those skills near the end of the season as the playoffs come," explained Niedzielski.

The Rebels had a .275 batting average as a team last year while opponents had a .292 batting average. Wyatt Lampel, who will be a four-year starter at second base, paced the 2016 team with a .441 batting average. Lampel was also the team-leader in doubles with eight and in triples with two and he was second in RBIs with 18. Lampel had the best result among pitchers as he had a 3-3 record. The Rebels will miss Rex Janke's skill at third base and his second-best batting average of .357. Janke was the RBI leader with 25 and he had three doubles and three home runs. Janke had a 2-4 record as a pitcher. Brendon Fogelberg, who showed very good promise as a pitcher, with a 1-0 record and one save, is a good utility player. He posted the third best batting average at .341. Mark Fossum, who can play most any position, had the fourth highest batting average at .324. Fossum was third in RBIs with 12 and he was tied for second with four steals. Fossum had a 1-0 record as a pitcher. The Rebels' very rangy center fielder, Joey Whited, graduated. Whited had the fifth highest batting average at .306, the fourth most RBIs with 11 and he was tied for the most steals with five. Left fielder Nick Wegge returns after batting .243 last year. The Rebels will need to find a new first baseman as Chet Morgan graduated. Ian Coil, who played 17 games with some as the starting shortstop last year, returns as junior. Coil had a .186 batting average. Coil had a 2-1 record as a pitcher. Evan Hansen, also a junior, played in 12 games last year and had a .143 batting average.

Although it is early, the coach took a look at some of the positions and candidates. "Right now we have had just two days with the pitchers and catchers and two days hitting in the cage," he related. "We have not quite hammered it all out yet. Wyatt Lampel, of course, will be at second base and he will be one of our pitchers in the rotation. Brendon Fogelberg has shown that he can be a good pitcher and he could be our first baseman as it works out. Ian Coil could pitch as could Mark Fossum and they could both be infielders. It could be Ian at shortstop or a handful of others. Evan Hansen could be in the outfield, probably in right field, or he might pitch some. Nick Wegge was our left fielder or he might pitch. Remington Starck could possibly be our catcher. He was a great pinch-runner for us last year," recalled the coach. Starck played in nine games as a junior last year. Starck had six at-bats with three hits and he was tied for the most steals with five thefts. "Danny Whited is a new guy for us. He seems to have a real hunger for baseball. He might get his brother Joey's spot in center field. Other than that, we have Ethan Meyer, a junior, and 10th-graders Carter Klund and Cooper Bexell. We are going to have to try to fill the big shoes of Rex Janke as he is no longer at third along with his high average, power hitting and RBIs," stated the coach.

Niedzielski reiterated, "We will always be wanting to be focusing on improving one aspect of the game each day."

The coach further explained the importance of improving pitching control. "There are new rules for pitch counts and rest this year," he began. "If a pitcher throws 30 or less pitches, no rest is required. If it's 31-50, it's one day of rest. If it's 51 to 75, it's two days of rest. If it's up to 105, it's three days of rest required. That means it will be even more important to keep pitch counts down so as to avoid becoming unavailable to pitch when we need people," the coach stated.

The coach made some early predictions on key contenders. "In the Polar League, it's Esko," he stated. "The top section teams will be probably be Esko and Aitkin and Duluth Marshall has a good program. Of course, there is Proctor. They went to state last year. We are going to have fun and we are going to be more competitive," the coach concluded.

The Rebels will begin by being busy traveling as the season starts with four away games. The opener is at Mora on Friday, April 7, with the varsity and junior varsity both scheduled to play at 4:30 p.m. MLWR travels again the very next day as it heads south to Pine City to play the Dragons on Saturday, April 8, with the varsity and junior varsity both scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. It's off to McGregor on Tuesday, April 11, with the varsity game scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. and the JV set to play at 6:15 p.m. The home opener will be a big Polar League rivalry game against the Esko Eskomos in Moose Lake on Thursday, April 13, with the varsity to play at 4:30 p.m. and the JV to play at 6:15 p.m.


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