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After the St. Bede baseball team lost its top eight players to graduation, this year’s squad has just two players back, one returning starter and 11 first-year varsity players.
Given the inexperience, the veteran Bruins coach was relying on preseason workouts and practices in order to determine how to best put together the new parts.
However, that’s been difficult thanks in part to Mother Nature, who has kept the Bruins inside for most of the preseason and has not allowed Bellino an opportunity to figure out his squad.
“It’s been very difficult, and it’s more difficult than ever before because everybody is so young,” Bellino said. “There’s just not a lot of returning letter winners back. Usually, we have four or five kids who we know we’re plugging in at a couple of places, but this year it’s different.”
It’s been frustrating for Bellino, who says he hasn’t had a team this young and inexperienced since the mid-1980s.
“As long as these kids play hard, it’s going to be fine,” Bellino said. “It’s going to center on defense, if we can hit a little bit and if we can throw strikes.”
This year’s squad is led by returning senior Michael Bellino and junior Jack Brady, who saw limited action last year, primarily as a courtesy runner.
Beyond the pair, the SBA roster features two seniors who were not out for baseball last season, four juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
“We’ve been called the ‘Young team’ this year for every sport,” Brady said. “We’ve adjusted to being the young team, and we know what we have to do now after two seasons of being young.”
While inexperienced on varsity, the Bruins do have talent, which John Bellino hopes can capture the program’s fourth regional in five years.
While subject to change, the SBA coach does have an idea of how his team will take the field.
Junior Sam Halm — who did not play last year due to a broken thumb — will split time with sophomore Nathan Bartley as catcher.
John Bellino is trying to settle on a first baseman from a group that includes Michael Bellino, senior Ethan Duttlinger — who did not play last year — sophomore G.W. Leynaud and freshman Brady Booker.
Jack Brady is expected to play at second base, while junior Matt Szczepaniak will play at shortstop. However, freshmen Nick Plankenhorn and Braidy Shipp could also play at either middle infield position.
At third base, Michael Bellino, junior Gabe Braboy and first-year senior Abram Yucus could all see time.
Shipp, Szczepaniak and sophomore Jarret Olson are all expected to be in the outfield, but an infielder could always move into the outfield.
“We’ll put out the guys who we think can hit the best and see what happens,” John Bellino said. “As I’ve told the kids, the guys who can put the bat on the ball are the ones who will be there at the end of the year.”
While SBA has been able to take batting practice in the cage, it has also been able to get in some throwing for its pitchers, all of whom are new.
This season Michael Bellino, Jack Brady, Duttlinger, Leynaud, Szczepaniak, Braboy and Booker could all see time on the mound.
“You have to be versatile in a small school and have pitching,” John Bellino said. “With having a much larger schedule than we’ve had in the past, if we’re using multiple pitchers we have to be able to replace one pitcher with someone else who can get the job done.”
After playing in the three-team NCIC and having a heavy non-conference schedule last year, the Bruins will play in the Three Rivers Conference South Division this season.
“There’ll be a lot of travel,” Michael Bellino said. “It’ll be a lot of late nights, but I’m excited to see some new teams.”
While SBA is ready to play, it may take the Bruins a little longer to reach peak potential this season.
“We definitely want to win the regional,” Jack Brady said. “That’s always the No. 1 goal for our team. We’re not going to go out and say, ‘Hey, just because we’re young we don’t want to win the regional’ because then why are we playing? We’re going out to win.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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