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Braves counting on veterans for successful season

  The return of seven starters has Charlie Dormanen expecting a winning season from the Menahga baseball team this spring.

     A year ago, the Braves tied for fourth place in the Park Region Conference standings with a 5-7 record en route to a 9-12 overall record. Menahga received the No. 6 seed in the North for the Section 6A tournament and opened with a 1-0 loss to No. 3 Pine River-Backus.

     Looking to lead the Braves to a successful season this spring are seniors Stetson Burkman, Brandon Junes, Frank Moren and Shawn Roth, and juniors Bob Lusti, Ray Mueller and Levi Schwartz.

     Burkman, Junes, Lusti and Schwartz return to lead a pitching staff that had a 3.39 ERA last season.

     Junes started eight games and went 1-4 with a 5.18 ERA, allowing 34 hits and 24 runs (18 earned) in 24 1/3 innings. Junes walked 10 and struck out 16.

     Schwartz also started six games and made eight pitching appearances, going 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA. In 36 innings, Schwartz gave up 26 runs (12 earned) on 25 hits and 31 walks while striking out 39.

     Lusti led the pitching staff last season with a 3-3 record and 1.71 ERA in eight appearances, including six starts. Lusti pitched 40 2/3 innings and gave up 22 runs (10 earned) on 25 hits and 14 walks while striking out 45.

     Burkman made eight appearances on the mound, including seven in relief, and went 2-1 with a 7.00 ERA. In 20 innings, Burkman gave up 25 runs (20 earned) on 20 hits and 17 walks with 20 strikeouts.

     Offensively, Schwartz batted .377 (23 for 61) with 10 runs and 10 RBI in 21 games. Burkman batted .354 (23 for 65) with 14 runs, 11 RBI and six stolen bases in 21 games. Moren hit .339 (19 for 56) with 10 runs, 10 RBI and eight stolen bases in 19 games. Roth batted .323 (21 for 65) with 21 runs, 18 stolen bases and six RBI in 21 games. Mueller led the team with three home runs and hit .311 (19 for 61) with seven runs and 12 RBI in 21 games. Junes batted .245 (12 for 49) with seven runs and eight RBI in 20 games. Lusti hit .242 (15 for 62) with 12 runs and nine RBI in 21 games.

     Defensively, Lusti and Schwartz will catch; Mueller (first base), Roth (second base), Burkman (shortstop) and Junes (third base) will man the infield; and Moren will return in the outfield. Those seven helped the Braves hit .276 as a team last season.

     Also returning with some varsity experience and looking to fill the other starting spots are seniors Jeff Johnson (outfielder/pitcher), Jeff Skoog (outfielder) and Tanner Schwartz (outfielder/pitcher); juniors Tristan Kjellberg (infielder) and Chris Maki (outfielder); sophomores Nick Meyer (outfielder) and Kyle Skoog (outfielder); freshmen Charles Haataja (infielder), Joe Keranen (infielder) and Darien Mickelson (infielder); and eighth grader Al Pietila (infielder).

     Johnson scored three runs and stole three bases in 10 games and went 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA in 5 1/3 innings and three appearances on the mound. Meyer hit .250 (3 for 12) with three runs in nine games and pitched 2 1/3 innings in two relief appearances. Maki (eight games), Kyle Skoog (five games), Keranen (two games) and Haataja (one game) saw some varsity action last season.

     Dormanen sees New York Mills as the heavy favorite in the conference with Sebeka and Parkers Prairie returning veteran teams. New York Mills joins Frazee and Wheaton as the top teams in the section. New York Mills went 12-0 to win the conference title and finished with a 25-1 overall record last season en route to winning the state Class A consolation title. New York Mills enters the season rated No. 2 while Frazee is rated No. 15 in the state Class A poll.

     With a veteran cast returning, Dormanen is counting on the Braves to move up in the conference standings and advance further in the playoffs.

     “We have a tough conference again and New York Mills, Frazee and Wheaton should be tough in the section,” said Dormanen, who will be assisted by Jake Lund and Jeremy Nordick. “We have experienced pitching and hitting, so we should have a winning season this year.”