NEW ULM - After five consecutive trips to the Section 3AA finals, the New Ulm Eagles baseball team hopes that 2013 can be the year that the Eagles are the groom instead of the best man.
And for head coach Jay Backer, it will probably be pitching and defense that will have to carry the Eagles this season.
"That will be the areas that we excel in," said Backer, who enters his seventh season with a career mark of 111-37. "But our hitting on the other hand is up in the air yet to see who will hit the ball."
Last year the Eagles hit .278 as a team.
That means that the New Ulm pitching staff - anchored by right-handers Chase Meyer (8-1 with a 1.95 ERA last season) and Tanner Kluis (5-2 with a 2.18 ERA) will be counted on by Backer this season. After those two, the Eagles look to Wyatt Peterson, who went 4-0 last year.
"We will do with Wyatt what we did with Tanner last year," Backer said. "He will see a lot of time on the B-squad unless he is pitching. Dominic Comacho and Tyler Dittrich are two others that we will use. Other than that, we may dip into the B-squad for more pitching. We have our number one and two starters, but after that we are not sure who our number three pitcher is. Pitching has turned into an important part of the game with the BBCOR bats. There are not a lot of runs scored in high school baseball, so you need to throw strikes and good things will happen to you."
The Eagles lost six starters from last year's squad, but back are first baseman Collin Kral, second baseman Kluis, shortstop Judd Davis and outfielder Meyer.
"Third base is still up in the air with either Brach Kraus or Jacob Gieseke," Backer said. "Meyer is the only returning starter in the outfield. Jackson Yackley, Blake Neumann, Cole Dulas and Luke Cihak will compete for a starting outfield spot."
Grant Kannegiesser, who saw some time catching late in the season, will be the starting catcher.
"He did some DH for us last year," Backer said. "But he has also caught our top two pitchers a lot."
One spot that is solid is at shortstop, where Davis is back.
Last year, Davis hit .338 for the Eagles.
"He is solid," Backer said. "His leap from his freshman to his sophomore year was outstanding and we expect to see a bigger stride as a junior."
"We are going to have to have some younger kids step up," Davis said. "Our pitching is going to be huge for us. We have two back, so we are going to have to have some young pitchers step up - we have some spots to fill."
Backer mirrored Davis's concern about the latter part of the Eagles' rotation, but also about the lower part of the batting order.
"Six through nine - who down there can produce for us," he said. "What will they be like down there, and right now I just do not know.
"We only have 13 players on the (varsity) roster but we have a solid B-squad," Backer said. "And if we have to we will dip down there and move kids up."
Backer looks to Fairmont as the pick with New Ulm in the conference, with St. Peter and St. James in the mix.
In the section, he sees Fairmont as the top team with New Ulm, Morris and Luverne as darkhorses.