Hitters returning, team hopes to develop young pitching
By COLE BENZ | Record Editor
Spring has sprung and the chalk has been laid. The Hettinger/Scranton/New England baseball team hit the diamond for their first practice on March 20, though the weather has forced them to work partially indoors.
But with warmer temperatures on the horizon, head coach Nolan Dix’s team of 22 will be able to dig in the dirt more regularly.
Last year’s squad won just three games, and went 0-2 in the regional tournament. But Dix hopes his team’s continued success at the plate can propel them to a better record, and a deep run in the postseason.
“I think hitting will be our strength once we get rolling,” he said.
After the team lost ace Brandon Pierce to graduation, junior Jarad Mattis is penciled in as the team’s opening day starter.
The team is riddled with young talent. The lone senior on the team is Bismarck State College commit Hudson Pierce, who is slated the team’s starting third baseman. Outside of Hudson and three juniors, the team is comprised mostly of sophomores, with freshmen, 8th-graders and 7th-graders.
Warrick and Connor Dilse are just two of the underclassmen that Dix said hopes to be contributors to the team this season. The Night Hawks are also returning Mason DaFoe, who missed last season because of an injury. Dix is also happy to get Kyle Burwick back this season at full strength. Last season Burwick battled through a few injuries and only played sparingly.
Early on this year Dix said his focus during practice will be pitching and defense, because he said errors were a big part of close games last year.
“We could have won some games last year that, [when] you look at the scoreboard, we get beat 6-4, we out hit them by one, and we have five errors,” he said. “So errors is going to be the big thing.”
He said practices will focus on the defensive strategies.
“We’ll be doing a lot more infield [drills], a lot more individual stuff,” Dix said. “We’ll be drilling ground balls to [the team], and pop flies too.”
Basically back to the basics.
Dix said that pitching will be a season-long project as they look to develop some of the younger arms on the team. The coach said in order to compete with the power teams in the region, you need a strong pitching staff.
“Because when you’re competing with Beulah, Shiloh, and Hazen, they all have pitchers,” Dix said. “If you don’t have the pitching then it will be a quick exit in the tournament.”
Region 8 has a new look this year, with Kidder County exiting and Heart River joining. The region now includes Beulah, Hazen, Hettinger/Scranton/New England, Shiloh Christian, and Washburn/Wilton/Center-Stanton.
The Night Hawks have five home games on the books and they usually have a first-pitch time about 3 p.m. They always play two games with the first game counting towards the team’s record and the second essentially is the junior varsity game. But with so many on the team this year, Dix will use that second game to get his young players experience.
The Night Hawks open the season in Dickinson against the Dickinson High’s junior varsity team on Monday, April 3. Their home opener is scheduled for Thursday, April 6 against the same team. They face Hazen on Monday, April 10 at home for their first regional game.
“We’re just looking forward to the season,” Dix said.
Dix is assisted by Larry Tibor, who coached with him last season.
You can follow the team on Facebook, and MaxPreps.com.