Young Knights look to surprise conference foes

Auburn senior Nick Montgomery hits a Rock Falls pitch. Montgomery is one of several senior leaders for the Knights this season. Photo by Matt Nestor

By Matt Nestor

Sports Columnist

For first-year coach Dan Anderson, he knows his Auburn Knights baseball team has a ways to go before they can be competitive for a conference crown.

The Knights are a young team, with only two returning starters, senior catcher Stephen Palmer and senior 2B/P Mike Montgomery from last year. But there is a lot of young talent on the team, and he is hoping that with his senior leaders, the team can be a threat by the end of the season.

Auburn has played an ambitious schedule, taking their lumps along the way, but getting better after each game.

“We’ve played a lot of tough teams so far,” Anderson said after a 19-4 loss to a Rock Falls team that returns eight starters and is one of the best teams in their class. “We’re progressing more as each day goes along. We’re seeing the guys get better with each game. The score might not always show it, but we can tell.”

The Knights also return seniors like Ross Smith and Nick Montgomery. But the hope is that younger players like sophomore shortstop Dustin Minnick and junior pitcher Pete Norberg improve after playing such a tough schedule that they can surprise some teams once conference play starts.

The Knights do have some pop in their bats with players like Palmer, but the key for them will be their speed on offense and their pitching. When they can put guys on base, they become threats to take extra bases, and Anderson hopes they can manufacture some runs.

“We have a lot of speed,” he said. “We have very good base runners. We have some good live arms. We also have really good leadership.”

While the ultimate goal for the team is to be competitive in the conference and in regionals, more than anything else, Anderson just wants to see the team continue to get better and be able to put a scare into every team they play.

“We’re trying to improve our baseball smarts and playing the game the right way,” Anderson said. “Knowing what to do when the ball is hit to you, just knowing the game itself.”

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From the April 7-13, 2010 issue

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