Is Vermillion High School baseball coach Jason Gault fooling with Mother Nature, or will the Tanagers' season really begin this Sunday afternoon?
A hint of spring in the area this week has indicated that it may actually happen that the Tanagers go to Sioux City West High School's field to take on the Sioux City Bancrofts in a pair of varsity non-league games at 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Ten returning letterwinners give Gault a great nucleus with whom to work, and seven first-year players strengthen Gault's options for a starting lineup. That will be especially so when it comes to pitching. Eight players have seen action on the mound in previous seasons.
"Once again pitching will be a determining factor in our season," Gault said. "The key will be to be able to consistently throw strikes."
Gault said Tyler Husby, senior pitcher who also plays infield and outfield, will anchor the rotation with Chayse Meierkort, Nate Garrett, Nile Morecraft and Robert Osterberg also providing starts for the Tanagers. Meierkort is only a sophomore who also catches and plays outfield. Garrett is a junior who also plays outfield. Morecraft is a junior pitcher in his first year of VHS baseball. Osterberg is a senior pitcher.
Other returning lettermen include senior Zach McDonald, pitcher and first baseman; senior Scott Iverson, catcher; junior D'Andre Fore, outfielder; junior Stormy Mirtz, third baseman; senior Andrew McCann, outfielder, and senior Luke Dodge, outfielder.
Besides Morecraft, the other first-year players include junior first baseman Caleb Miller; sophomore pitcher-shortstop Tanner Settles; sophomore second baseman Tanner Anderson; sophomore pitcher-outfielder Collin Bertram, junior outfielder Mitch Ellison, and junior third baseman Cody Sommervold.
"We will rely on some young players to fill in gaps defensively at shortstop and second base," Gault said. Due to graduation the Tanagers lost All-State shortstop Jason Rasmussen, who now plays at Augustana, and Sam Ekstrom, who played second base. The two Tanners � Settles and Anderson � will be options for Gault at those respective positions.
Also lost to graduation were All-State pitcher Brian Hansen and All-Region pitcher Nick Anglin, who plays ball at Dakota Wesleyan.
Providing power at the plate on offense will be Husby, Iverson, McDonald and Meierkort. "It will be important to find that right mix of power and small ball from our other starters to maximize our run production," Gault said.
Vermillion, which went 9-6 in high school ball last spring and saw its season end in a first-round playoff lost to Bon Homme, competes in the extremely strong southeast district and region. Gault expects Bon Homme, Beresford and Dakota Valley to be tough this spring.
"I have really been impressed by the commitment and work ethic that the coaches have witnessed during preseason practice and bullpen sessions," Gault commented. "This is a group of kids that you can tell really enjoy the game of baseball and have been successful at it in previous years." He said the seniors' leadership has set an excellent example for the underclassmen to emulate.
"We feel we have confident players with the skill sets to succeed this spring," Gault said.
Sunday's opponent could be considered to be the Sioux City area American Legion team. In Iowa they have to play Legion games early since high school baseball takes place in the summer. Gault said the Bancrofts will be a very good team composed of Sioux City's best players.
After Sunday's openers the Tanagers will go to Dakota Valley next Friday, March 25, for non-league games with the varsity at 5 p.m. and the JVs at 7 p.m. The home openers at Prentis Park will be against Beresford on Sunday, March 27, starting with the varsity at 1 p.m., followed by the JVs at 3 p.m.