Baseball: Blue Devils have sights set on a succesful spring

Published 7:45 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Riverland Community College baseball team isn’t as deep as it has been in year’s past, but the Blue Devils are still high on talent as they look to stay among the elite teams in Division III NJCAA.

RCC has won five of the last six MCAC titles and it has cracked the national rankings for seven straight years. Once again the goal is for RCC to get back NJCAA World Series.

Josh Molina, a freshman from Puerto Rico, has stepped up as one of RCC’s leading hitters after the team went 6-1 on its trip to Arizona. Molina is hitting .526 with 2 doubles, 1 HR 8 RBIs and he’s focused on having a great year.

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“I’m just trying to hit so we can win games,” Molina said. “I want to go to the world series this year. That’s my dream and that’s the only thing on my mind.”

Due to some players being ineligible, the Blue Devils will be limited in numbers this season. RCC head coach Scott Koenigs said the team has 12 players who can contribute in the lineup and there are quality starting pitchers, but the Blue Devils don’t have big help in the bullpen.

“This team’s going to be good, but we’re definitely not as deep as we have been,” Koenigs said. “We have a lot of talent here. We’ve got some decent pitchers that can throw strikes and they can pound the zone. We have a group that is going to be able to swing the bat well and it’s just going to come down to how we can play in that Regional tournament.”

RCC’s only loss in Arizona came in extra innings to a Division I NJCAA team and RCC is scheduled to play a doubleheader at Ellsworth 2 p.m. Saturday.

Jake Erickson, a freshman from La Crosse, Wis., pitched four shutout innings while striking out nine in Arizona and he’s also hitting .294 at the plate with four RBIs. He said the goal is to have a very successful spring.

“We’ve got some guys on our team that can really swing it and I think we’ll win a lot of games this year as long as we have the right mentality,” Erickson said.

The Blue Devils have just three starters back from last season and the squad will rely on a lot of freshmen to step up. Luis Rodriguez, a sophomore from Puerto Rico, is one of the few returning players and he said the younger Blue Devils have already proven themselves.

“These guys are not freshmen to me. They’ve all played since they were three or four years old and they know how to behave themselves,” Rodriguez said. “Last year I learned how to be a better player and I’m trying to shape them into better players.”

RCC’s first year players have quickly picked up to Koenigs’ style and they’re come in with a winning attitude. Jacob Zwak, a freshman from St. Paul, Minn. who is hitting .300, said the team likes where it is at right now.

“Coach K is definitely a players’ coach. He knows how to talk to us and we listen to him,” Zwak said. “We’re close as a team now. People that weren’t very close before the Arizona trip are a lot closer now after that 24 hour bus trip.”

The fast start in Arizona left the Blue Devils feeling optimistic about what’s to come this spring. Mason Ruhlman, a freshman from Algonac, Mich., said the team is on track to do great things.

“I think we’re feeling pretty confident,” said Ruhlman, who is hitting .316 with two homers, two doubles and seven RBIs. “We’ve been practicing hard this winter and we’ve been putting work in. It was nice to get down and play in some warm weather, where we swung well and we pitched well. We’ve just got to stay clean and we’ll be alright.”