By Joe Tischler
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Last season, the Mankato Loyola baseball team went 16-6, finished a half game from tying for the Gopher Conference championship and earned a top seed in the Section 2A playoffs. If the Crusaders want to reach and surpass those accomplishments this year, their hitting will be counted on to take this team where it wants to go.
“Hitting is definitely one of our strengths,” said junior catcher Shane Sellner. “We’re definitely going to score a lot of runs.”
Sellner, a two-time All-Gopher Conference player, leads a strong contingent of returnees to the lineup including senior infielder/pitcher Evan Ellingworth, and fellow seniors Blake Matuska, Andrew Sweere, and Kyle Reynolds.
Pitching is Loyola’s biggest question mark. Ellingworth brings the most experience on the mound as the Crusaders look to fill the shoes left by the departure of all-state hurler Zach Mullin.
“Evan has had a lot of experience so we know he’s going to be out there,” said head coach John Landkamer. “Mark Korteum, a junior, will probably do some throwing for us and we have some other seniors, Sweere and Reynolds. We’ll look at some sophomores, too, so it’s going to be pitching by committee to start out with.”
The “pitching by committee” rotation will have a new conference to compete in. The Crusaders are going from the Gopher to the Valley Conference.
Instead of battling New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown or United South Central for a conference championship, Loyola will be taking on the likes of Maple River, Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Nicollet.
“We haven’t played Maple River before so it will be fun to play them,” said Landkamer. “Martin County West is another team we’ve never played before.”
One of those teams Loyola will not be playing in its new conference is United South Central, a team that ended the Crusaders’ 2012 season earlier than anticipated in the second round of the Section 2A playoffs.
“Thinking about that loss helps to make us work that much harder,” said Ellingworth. “Every time you think you’re tired or every time you think ‘I don’t want to this,’ we have to work that extra little bit just so that doesn’t happen again this year.”
The season is to begin April 9 at new conference foe Alden-Conger. Loyola’s home opener is April 11 against Nicollet at Franklin Rogers Park.