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Riewer's Raiders have obstacles to overcome

Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale catcher Mack Jones will be back for the 2017 high school baseball season. Jones also pitches and plays third base for the Raiders. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal

Graduation hit the Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale Raiders harder than any batting lineup last year when eight of their players bowed out of the lineup.

The Pirates rode pitching and defense all the way to the Section 6AA tournament in St. Cloud where back-to-back losses to ninth-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral and Milaca finished their season at 11-13. Along the way, the crafty Raiders upset playoff foes Wadena-Deer Creek 5-4 and No. 13 Foley 3-2.

Steve Riewer will be retooling for the 2017 season with a club that has only two seniors in the ranks. Outfielder Jackson Fore is working at being ready for the season opener after being sidelined by a basketball injury. Corner infielder Ty Klimek has the kind of bat head coach Steve Riewer wants in the middle of his lineup.

Riewer has a sizeable group of juniors headed by Mack Jones and Matt Steege. Jones will be playing varsity baseball for the third season in a row. The versatile Jones can catch, pitch and play third. Steege is also a returning starter and will be vying for playing time at third and the backstop position.

Other juniors expected to make bids for a spot in the BHV lineup will be Adam Bauch, Charles Bakken, Casey Holman, John McIntire, Owen Korfe, Josh Bounds and Owen Refshaw.

One junior who will be conspicuous by his absence will be pitcher and outfielder Luke Weniger. Shoulder surgery is expected to cost the valuable player the entire season.

"Graduation and injuries have certainly taken a toll on the Raiders moving forward into the 2017 season," Riewer said. "Those two factors leave us with practically zero varsity pitching experience so we will have to find a way for our younger players to fill a huge void on the mound. Our JV team was very strong last season so we will see how that translates to the varsity level for us."

The loss of Weniger and the eight seniors could be offset be balanced by the addition of foreign exchange players like Kevin Tseng, Pascal Gorke and Seong Min.

Riewer is looking for Christian Baumgartner, Brayden Vertina, Jarret Kveton, Hunter Seefeldt, Jackson Weniger, Mason Elbert, Tate Bounds and Daltyn Kvamme to represent the sophomore class.

The Raiders will also be looking for gems from the freshman ranks which Riwer expects to include John Holman, Ryan Hahn, Ryan Ismil, Colton Neal, Rick Harig, Levi Stork, Kenny Hegarty and Conner Bertram.

Right behind the top four grades are 19 junior high players.

"I think New York Mills, Wadena/Deer Creek and Otter Tail Central will once again be favorites in the Park Region Conference," Riewer said. "Those three programs seem to reload each year and put quality teams on the diamond."