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Baseball preview: Veterans looking to lead bounce-back season

It’s been an inconsistent couple of years in the South Suburban Conference for the Farmington baseball team. The Tigers turned heads in their first year in the league in 2015, tying for second place with an 11-7 mark. Then last spring they sunk to last place with a 3-15 showing, only to show some life at the end of the season with a couple section tournament victories.

Head coach Jon Graff is hopeful his eight returning regulars will use another year of varsity experience to help them turn some of their closes losses back into wins and help the program take a step back toward the middle of the SSC this spring.

“We lost 13 games by two runs or less, so a hit here or a hit there could have turned those ballgames. We’re trying to make sure the guys know to take things one pitch at a time and have that much of a laser focus,” Graff said. “ When you lose that many close games, it  shows you’re competitive. We left a lot of guys on base. We have to put the ball in play more, move guys over and manufacture those runs.”

Much like on the basketball court this winter, the Tigers will be led by senior Sam Wilson. Wilson is a two-time all-conference selection as a first baseman and hit .347 with a team-high 26 hits, 15 RBI and 15 stolen bases last spring. He hit leadoff, but could move into a run-producing role if other hitters step up.

Comprising the rest of the heart of the Tiger lineup will likely be a pair of team captains, third baseman-pitcher Reed Collins and catcher Mikey Fredrickson. Collins drove in 10 runs last year and Fredrickson settled in to hit .269 and earn all-conference honors as a sophomore.

Also back with a year of varsity experience are speedy outfielder Adam Weed, steady shortstop Mason Spencer and gritty second baseman and backup catcher Michael Nezerka.

In addition to Collins, the Tigers return senior Mitch Fox to anchor the pitching staff. Fox posted a 4.96 ERA in 36 ⅔ innings last year.

“He didn’t get much defensive support or run support. He’ll throw strikes and keep attacking the zone,” Graff said. “We’ll definitely look for him to eat up a ton of innings. He’s shown in the past he can perform and win at this level.”

Zach Jakubowsky and Hunter Conrad are other pitchers who could be ready to take on bigger varsity roles. Graff said pitching and outfield depth are the two biggest question marks for the team heading into the season and the battles for playing time are wide open.

“The talent pool is getting pretty good. We have some good competition for those areas,” he said.

Graff said the improving level of talent and commitment were evident on the first day of practice Monday at FHS.

“Even from the first day you could see their desire to work. These guys have an understanding of what it takes to be successful,” he said. “Our older guys remember what it was like coming in second in the conference. We struggled last year, but I like where we are. We have a competitive atmosphere going on.”

The Tigers open the season Wednesday, April 6 at home against New Prague.