MANKATO — Mankato West senior right-hander Dalton Hinsch spent a lot of time studying last year's talented Scarlets pitching staff from the dugout. Now it's time for the crafty Hinsch to step into a role he's surely going to relish.
"We had so many dynamite senior pitchers last year," Hinsch said. "Their work ethic is something I hope to follow. I've been focusing on that and now I feel I am ready to go."
Hinsch, who has yet to throw his first varsity pitch, is one of just four seniors on a junior-dominated team.
"I am not the hardest-throwing guy on the team so I rely a lot on my off-speed stuff," he said. "I've watched a couple of (Washington Nationals pitcher) Max Scherzer videos to learn how to throw a change-up, and that will go good with a curve ball that has been good in the past. It's just you against the batter each time, and the previous hitter means nothing."
West, which compiled a 17-8 mark a year ago, returns only 25 total hits from last season and 33 innings pitched from sophomore Jack Foster and junior Ben Hopper.
"Dalton is a role model for the younger kids," West coach Ethan Anderson said, "knowing that hard work, a good attitude and putting your time in can pay off. I don't have any idea how successful he'll be, but he's going to get a chance to prove himself.
"He's not a power pitcher and doesn't throw very hard, but he's got an excellent change-up so it's going to be about changing speeds for him. He has to loccate his pitches and keep hitters off their timing. Dalton has been real upbeat, positive and energetic. He just wants to help the team out and is a perfect guy to be one of our leaders."
Hopper, who also plays shortstop, and senior first baseman Kyle Liebl are the most-experienced position players returning. Liebl hit .333 with five RBIs, while Hopper batted .225 with six runs scored. Junior catcher Sam Vosburg also saw some action for the Scarlets, who have 14 juniors on the varsity roster.
"We have a lot of juniors who are very talented and will provide a spark for us," Hinsch said. "I think we're all excited for the season, and if we continue to progress as a team and don't make those young-guy mistakes we'll do pretty well. We like to have fun but we still have to stay on task. ... We're combining the fun with working hard."
Foster, a hard-throwing right-hander, and Hopper will likely get a bulk of the mound work while senior Jaidan Rollings along with a bevy of juniors — Bryant Brunz, Peyton Duncan, Daniel Johnson, Avery Miller, Nathan Phinney, Lucas Warner and Aaron Young — are also in the mix. Senior outfielder Jackson Schwartz along with juniors Carter Deicchman, Clay Herding, Michael McMahan, Andrew Mihm and Rhett Wiebers complete the varsity roster.
"We have very limited experience as a group so it's an opportunity to be competitive amongst one another," Anderson said. "Everybody is going to get a turn to go out there and get the job done. If we do it right, we can build a lot of team chemistry. When it's not your turn, you'll be pulling for the other guy because if he has success the team will have success.
"This is an energetic and enthusiastic group who shows up relaxed, yet they're still working hard. Younger players tend to over think a little bit and try too hard at times. It will be a challenge to get them to go out there and relax and trust their ability. ... You can't be uptight."
West is scheduled to open the season on Thursday at Mankato East.
"Hanging out with the guys is a ton of fun and they're the reason I came back," Hinsch said. "There's the memories you get to share along with the sport I love to play."