NEW ULM - The Martin Luther College Knights baseball team is hoping for improvements that will spur them to move into the top two spots in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference this season.
"We are looking to build off of our 14-16 record from last year," Knights head coach Randy Cox said. "We want to return to the UMAC post-season tournament and improve our conference mark."
The Knights do have experience coming back that should help them do just that.
Back is an experienced pitching staff in First Team All-UMAC pitcher Jake Ziel, who posted an ERA of 1.43 in six games. He fanned 54 batters in 44 innings and ended in the Top 10 in D-III in hits allowed in nine innings with just over five and averaged 11 strikeouts in nine innings.
In the Knights' spring trip to Florida, Ziel went 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA and recorded 13 strikeouts and 14 innings. More impressive, Ziel did not walk a batter.
Andrew Nemmers also is back on the mound. Nemmers had an ERA of a microscopic .75 in 12 innings in his trip to the Sunshine State. He struck out a batter an inning and issued just three free passes.
In addition, Cox looks forward to Matt Olson, James Hermmelman, Jonathan Kock, Wyatt Werner and Minnesota Valley Lutheran graduate Travis Kretsch to add quality starts to the mound staff.
"We feel that we have the quality to be competitive in every game and we can compete with St. Scholastica for the UMAC title," Cox said.
The Knights' offense is paced by another First Team All-UMAC player in first baseman Galen Holzhueter. Last season, Holzhueter carried a robust .333 batting average and had an on-base percentage of .451.
However, Holzhueter is the only returning starter in the infield.
That means that players like Hemmelman, Olson and Werner may also get baptism in the infield on the left side.
First year starter Tom Welch will more than likely be penciled in at second base.
While there is inexperience in the Knights' infield, that is not the case behind the plate where Aaron Stokke is back for his third straight season.
Patrolling the outfield will be veteran Joe Schmudlach in center. He will be bordered by Joel Herring and Ziel in the corner outfield spots.
Nemmer and Ben Edmundson will also see time in the outfield.
"We need to improve on our hitting and of course, we need to play solid fundamental baseball to win," Cox said.