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Season Preview: Baseball

West Fargo's Tucker Bucholz, right, and Matt Strahm chase down a pop up during the May 3, 2010, North Dakota Class A state baseball tournament game in Mandan against Bismarck Century. Pioneer file photo.

The Packers are chomping at the bit.

Spring baseball anytime soon may seem like a far cry from reality, but once West Fargo gets the word, the team will be on the diamond and ready to play.

"We've gone two straight weeks practicing indoors at the Lodoen Center," Packers baseball coach Brett Peterson said. "It's not terrible, but it starts to wear on everybody."

The Packers were slated to kick off their season Tuesday with a road trip to Grand Forks, but the game was postponed because of poor field conditions. With dusty baseball diamonds and lush outfields likely still weeks away, some questions linger as to how this year's West Fargo team will fare compared to last year's squad.

In 2010, the Packers beat Fargo North during the East Region tournament to qualify for state, and then went 2-for-3 there to place fifth overall. Their 26-6 overall record was a top finish for the Packers, and they also had a number of players named All-Conference and All-State.

With the bar set so high, this year's Packers could have their work cut out for them, especially after losing some punch on the mound and offense. But Peterson is optimistic.

"It's funny, because we do lose a lot of seniors and production this year," he said. "But I also think we actually bring back more varsity experience than we ever have. We had more underclassmen than ever get varsity experience last season."

That taste of the big show by greenhorns could bode well for West Fargo - that is, if they ever get to play some games before the postseason starts.

Who to watch

It's true that the Packers will be down eight seniors from last season. Big names like Matt Strahm and Spencer Flaten (the former how was named both All-EDC and All-State, while the latter earned All-EDC honors) helped carry West Fargo.

"He is going to be hard to replace," Peterson said, of Strahm, who was named Senior Athlete of the Year. "And Spencer is the same deal. He arguably was one of the fastest guys we've ever had."

Peterson did single out a few players who could help to fill those shoes, and pitching is where the Packers will look for most of their strength.

"If you're looking rotation-wise, it all starts with pitching," Peterson said. "Last year, we were driven by our pitching staff."

Senior Tanner Dahl could shape up to be West Fargo's strongest presence on the mound.

"I think he's on the short list of the best pitchers in the state," Peterson said.

Dahl was a standout as a junior, earning both All-Conference and All-State honors. He finished with a 4-2 record, while his four earned runs and 0.49 earned run average were team bests. Dahl also pitched four complete games, tallied two saves, and struck out 65 batters, a feat second only behind Strahm's 70 Ks.

Karson Mapes and Austin Horsager round out West Fargo's top three.

"Karson moved up to varsity halfway through the season," Peterson said. "And Austin has got some experience under his belt. He's been a good pitcher. We're looking for a lot out of both of them."

Of the two, Mapes received the most varsity experience last year. He finished with a 4-0 record and 19 strikeouts on 23 innings pitched, even though he also allowed 20 hits and 15 earned runs in that time.

Horsager only pitched nine varsity innings, but allowed just three earned runs to finish with a 2.42 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

As for the rest of the diamond, the Packers are covered.

"I feel pretty good that we'll have 14 strong guys ready to play," Peterson said.

Tucker Bucholz will hit middle of the order, Peterson said, and Dahl will play first base when he's not on the mound.

Zach Steckler will also get his time on the field, and Landon Uetz likely will play second base with Jordan Rheault backing him up.

Then there's Andy Young at shortstop, who's another one of those players "on the short list of the best in the state," Peterson said. Young had a wrist injury last year, but is ready to go this season.

Braden Schmidt and Zach Neer are two more top players. Neer also was out last year with an injury, but is 100 percent now, Peterson said.

As for the outfield, Mapes, Horsager, Brock Evenson, Austin Dillard and Jake Hermanson have that covered.

Schmid, Dillard and Uetz also will be key for offense, especially since they return the most varsity experience, and all three had sluggin percents over .400.

It's clear the Packers have the skill available to play, if the snow ever melts, that is.

"It is what it is," Peterson said, with a laugh.