MENDOTA — Aaron Sester knows it’s a process.
With just four seniors and three starters returning to this year’s Mendota baseball team, the second-year Trojans coach has spent the bulk of the first few weeks of practice deciphering his team.
After having a senior-laden squad last spring, this year’s MHS team will rely heavily on juniors and sophomores to mix in with the seniors it has.
However, the process of working in all the new pieces hasn’t fazed Sester or his team.
“It’s actually been exciting,” Sester said. “The good thing about these kids is they are hungry and want to win, and they have talent. It’s exciting to coach a group of guys that really are buying into the program and doing whatever they can.”
The Trojans return just one full-time starter from last season, an outfielder Cody Zinke, who will miss the start of the season with an injury.
Also back, senior Trae Blumhorst — a utility player last season who this year has settled into left field — as well as senior Jon Gehm, who will start at first base after sharing time last season.
The rest of the spots are likely to be filled by new-to-varsity players.
“We are going to be really young this year and probably have four sophomores playing and maybe a couple of freshmen to go with a good core of juniors,” Sester said. “We have some seniors, too, but due to injuries we’re trying to pull from the lower ranks.”
In the infield, sophomore Brett Becker will catch. In addition to Gehm at first, junior Riley Schuhler will play at second, sophomore Jaron Robinson at shortstop and sophomore Nathaniel DeLong at third.
In the outfield, sophomore Evan Schultz will play along with Blumhorst and Zinke, once he’s healthy. Until then, a combination of senior Rick Shankles as well as juniors Matt Turner, Matt Dornink Michael Rosalez, Spencer Evans or Vincent Miller will play in Zinke’s place.
One player from this group also is likely to be the team’s designated hitter.
“We have a lot of guys who I think this year will have high batting averages and can hit a lot,” said Robinson, who began last season varsity. “We have some really strong guys who can be power hitters, but we also have a lot of players who can make contact.”
Sester is still unsure of how his batting order will shake out.
“Our lineup will be very good from top to the bottom, but it’s new and it’ll be moved around,” he said. “I guarantee that first-day batting order will be different from the second day and the third day. It’ll take some time trying to get the kids to fit into the right spot and find their role.”
Despite the newness in the lineup and in the field, the returning seniors are expected to provide a solid pitching core.
Blumhorst should be the team’s No. 1 pitcher, while Zinke will be the No. 2. Gehm will also pitch along with Shankles, DeLong, Becker and Evans, as well as junior Aaron Olsen and potentially a few freshmen.
“The top of our rotation will be very good and I really expect them to click, which I hope will carry us in the postseason,” Sester said.
A postseason where the Trojans will compete in Class 2A despite all other MHS sports, other than softball, being bumped up in class.
“We always want to win the regional,” Schuhler said. “Other than that, we just want to improve on all the little things and get better from the beginning to the end of the year.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.