HIBBING — After missing a complete year of spring baseball in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Hibbing Community College baseball team is ready for some action.
The Cardinals will get their wish today, when they travel to Minneapolis to take on St. Cloud Tech, beginning at 10 p.m. at US Bank Stadium. The second game will begin sometime early Friday morning.
Hibbing manager Bob DeNucci has a team loaded with talent, especially in the infield.
Sophomore second baseman Yadied Baez is Division I JUCO transfer from Frank Phillips Community College in Texas, and freshman Ariel Gonzalez, is a switching-hitting shortstop from Guaymabo. Puerto Rico.
“They’re tough,” DeNucci said. “We’re back to where we know we can turn double plays. They have a lot of range and good arm strength.
They will be joined by sophomores Cole Cobb (catcher), Codeih Powers (pitcher), Hunter Herpel (outfield, pitcher), JD Cunningham (pitcher) and Robert Rodriguez (firstbase).
“They will play a big part in this season,” DeNucci said. “JD has been here for three years, and we have a proven catcher in Cole. He swings a good bat. He had a good fall last year, and Codeih has done some good things on the mound to improve.
“Hunter, we moved him to the outfield because we brought in some middle infielders this year.”
The biggest transfer might be Cory Wolters of Hastings. He’s coming over from Mesabi Range. He pitches and plays center field.
“He had some mechanical issues that we fixed,” DeNucci said. “His fastball is running from the mid-80s to 90 in his bullpen workouts. He’s tough. We’ll use him as our closer during the non-conference part of the schedule, then he might start during conference play.
“He’s a good center fielder. He can run and throw.”
The freshmen-laden squad also has outfielder Caden Willis and Montana; catcher Sean Bonner of Houston; lefty Ryan Vondracek of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; pitcher Levi Sweere of Sunburg, Minn.; pitcher Kazdion Mount of Jay, Okla.; pitcher Gavin Constantine of Cherry; outfielder Noah Vinopal of Hibbing; pitcher Hunter Levander of Mesabi East; and pitcher Brody Niskanen of Hibbing, among others.
Pitching-wise, DeNucci feels good about the depth on the mound.
“We’re deep,” he said. “When we play our weekend doubleheaders on the conference, our top four guys will be good starters. We’ll have middle relief, and hopefully, someone steps into that closer role.”
If DeNucci can find that pitcher, that could mean the difference between making and not making the playoffs.
“That would be huge,” DeNucci said. “We’ve never had that here, a guy to shut the game down. That can impact every game. We could leave Wolters there or turn to Mount.”
Defensively, the Cardinals should be strong up the middle, but his catchers have some big shoes to fill.
“We were lucky to have Joe (Lescarbeau), Jaiman (Lamphere) and Derek (Calvillo) here,” DeNucci said. “They’re working hard, but they have big shoes to fill.”
Offensively, DeNucci likes power, but he may have to redo his thinking this year.
“We don’t have the power we had last year,” he said. “We have guys who can run, so we might have to manufacture runs as much as I’d hate to say it. My philosophy is hit-it-high, hit-it-hard and aim-for-the-scoreboard. With the kids that I have, they don’t fit that philosophy, so we might have to change it, accordingly.
“Last year, one through nine, they could all leave the yard.”
DeNucci touts Vermilion as the top team in the conference. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
“With the talent they brought in, they might run away with it,” DeNucci said. “The rest of the conference is as good as it’s ever been. It’s tough. It’ll come down to pitching, especially if the weather gets bad, and we get backed up.
“That would play to our advantage.”
With the ability to play, DeNucci doesn’t mind the later starting times. He players are looking forward to getting on the field again.
“Our non-conference schedule is tough,” he said. “The teams we’re playing are ranked in one national poll or another, except for one of them. We’re looking to play good baseball.
“We want to avoid walking a lot of guys, having a good approach at the plate and playing solid baseball earlier in the year.”