PELLA — A veteran squad that includes nearly all of their pitchers from a year ago gives Jesse Jablonski’s Pella squad reason for hope in this shortened season as they look to bounce back after going 11-23 in 2019.
“We have a great deal of experience returning, and with a shortened preseason before games begin, we look at that as a potential advantage over the teams that are very young,” Jablonski said. “Our seniors have really stepped up this offseason to lead our team and the first few days of practice have been great.”
The Dutch lose two seniors but will return six letter winners in seniors Nick Grandia, Drew Hillman, River Baker, Tanner Dunsbergen and Colby Van Gorp along with junior Nick DeJong.
Grandia won a spot in the outfield last year and didn’t look back on his way to second team all-conference season after hitting .316 with three doubles and 14 RBIs. Jablonski is looking for more good things out him this season.
Hillman is a great leader on the field at catcher. He struggled at the plate, hitting .216 but Jablonski believes that number should go up this year. Hillman can also chew up some innings out of the bullpen as he has impressed on the mound in offseason workouts.
Baker is another great senior leader that loves to play the game. He hit .292 last season with four doubles and one home run and will be another steady bat in the middle of the Dutch lineup. Baker is one of Pella’s returning arms that will fight for a starting job after going 1-2 with a 4.88 ERA and 12 strikeouts against 15 walks in 14 1/3 innings last year.
Dunsbergen will slide over to shortstop this year while returning as the team’s number one pitcher. On the mound, he went 3-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 29 strikeouts against 24 walks in 48 2/3 innings. At the plate, Dunsbergen will look to improve after hitting .150.
Van Gorp has been in a backup role the last few years but will look to compete for a starting job in the infield. He is another guy that Jablonski has been impressed with in the first few days of practice.
DeJong could be Pella’s most dangerous hitter this season after hitting .314 with seven doubles and 14 RBIs in 2019. He provides a lot of power in the lineup and does a nice job holding down the hot corner and logging innings behind the plate. He is another guy that will likely chip in a few innings on the mound as well, a position Pella feels really good about this year.
“We return almost our entire pitching staff from last year, and with pitchers not likely to get deep into games early in the season, we feel like we have enough pitchers to stay competitive in any game,” Jablonski said.
Pella will also have some younger players and newcomers that will have to step up this summer to get the Dutch where they want to go.
Sophomore infielder Jason Knox impressed in limited time hitting .304 over 23 at-bats. He also spent a good portion on the mound, posting a 3.29 ERA in 17 innings. He is a guy that could take a big step this year competing for a starting spot in the infield and on the rubber.
Sophomore Keagan Miedema, junior Mason Wittmer and senior Clayton Cummings, who missed most of last year with an injury, are all guys that look to continue to develop as good arms for the Dutch pitching staff.
Juniors Kaden Lyle and Josh Miller and sophomores Cole Hillman and Keegan Hansen will fight for time out in the field.
Pella looks to be equipped on the mound for the potential four or five games in a week schedule. The question will be how much their bats improve this year.
“Offensively, we struggled last year to score runs,” Jablonski said. “We'll need to put together more consistent AB's this year, and make pitchers earn their outs. Our guys know they are better than they showed last year, and they have put in a lot of work in the offseason to improve themselves at the plate.”
Everybody will be in the same situation with the uncertainty of where their team is at early in the season. Teams with a lot of experience may have the advantage early on. With that said the Little Hawkeye Conference was very tough last year with four teams posting 20-win seasons. Pella went 6-13 in conference play last year and will have a lot of tough games against LHC opponents.
“I know our guys are just excited to get the opportunity to play again, and we can't wait to start competing together on the field,” Jablonski said. “The Little Hawkeye Conference is always tough and this year should be no different. It doesn't matter who you are playing within the conference...there is never an easy night.”