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Serena hoping solid fundamentals can overcome inexperience

Serena shortstop Connor Baker - the most experienced returner for this spring's Huskers - tags out a would-be Somonauk base stealer last season.
Serena shortstop Connor Baker - the most experienced returner for this spring's Huskers - tags out a would-be Somonauk base stealer last season.

There will be a lot of unknowns heading into this baseball season for Serena and coach Chad Baker, who will be making out the lineup cards for his 21st season (293-255-1) and is seven coaching wins shy of 300.

The Huskers lost a number of keys contributors from a 2018 campaign that saw them finish with an 11-12 overall record (7-7 in the Little Ten Conference) and fall to Marquette in a regional championship game. A pair of those losses to graduation were the battery of pitcher Trace Berggren and catcher Preston Duffy, the former a four-time All-LTC pick and Times First Teamer, and the latter a two-time all-league selection and Times First All-Area Team honoree. The duo was also the top pair of hitters on last season's club, batting in the third and fourth spots in the order.

According to Baker, Serena will count on his son Connor, a junior, to carry a significant role in 2019, but although much of the 12-member squad will be inexperienced, the skipper feels he has a few other returning players who will have to help shoulder the load.

"Connor has the most on-the-field experienced coming into this season," Coach Baker said of his offspring, who hit .291 with 11 RBIs. "He is going to be our go-to guy on the mound and in the lineup. ... I don't want to put a lot of pressure on him, but we are going to need a lot from him for us to be able to compete.

"(Senior) Riley McNelis, who was our utility guy and played all over the place, will probably do that again this year. (Sophomore) Ivan Stafford (2-2, 24 IP, 13 K), who is going to be our No. 2 pitcher, saw a significant amount of playing time last year. We also have Jack Rogers (Jr., .239, 8 RBIs), Brandt Faivre (So.) and Connor Holdiman (So.) back, and they all saw limited time, but I'm expecting them to step up this season and fill big roles. Freshman Cole Shannon will take over behind the plate."

Rounding out the Huskers' roster is senior A.J. Kuhn, who Coach Baker said is hoping to return to the diamond by the end of the season after suffering a torn ACL during basketball season, junior Porter Arneson, sophomores Brody Faivre and Hunter Linder, as well as freshmen Dylan Cartwright and Alex Watts.

"We don't have a ton of experience, and other than Connor being at short or on the mound, there isn't really any positions that you can say 'This is your spot, and you're going to be there all season,' " Coach Baker said. "We lost seven or eight seniors, and five of those played almost every inning last season.

"We are going to have to move a lot of kids around, but that is good in a way, because all the kids are going to get a lot of playing time and different spots. We'll have to give it time to see what works best.

"We have been concentrating on a ton of fundamental stuff here in the preseason. We want to be doing all of the little things right, and hopefully during the season that will translate into being able to get more into refining things, more situational aspects."

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