Zach Smith of Burnsville. ] JOELKOYAMA‚Ä¢jkoyama@startribune Bloomington, MN on April 15, 2014. Burnsville at Bloomington Kennedy
By the time Zach Smith got back to the dugout, his teammates were already laughing.
Smith — the lefthanded ace of the Burnsville pitching staff — had just smacked a deep RBI double off the right-field wall. He scored moments later on a teammate’s single, part of a 7-2, season-opening victory over Lakeville South on April 11.
“And we’re laughing as he gets to the dugout, because he’s a little guy — really skinny — and never [hits] it out of the infield,” Blaze outfielder Will Reger said. “We teased him that it had to be the farthest he’s ever hit the ball. And he just smiled and said, ‘Yeah, guarantee it was.’ ”
“I’d say that’s about max power for me,” Smith said with a laugh.
Smith’s bat might’ve been the highlight of that day but, more than anything, his hit sums up the 2014 Blaze, a team devoid of the star college recruits it has grown accustomed to over the years.
Burnsville, which still earned a No. 5 Class 3A preseason ranking, is hoping it has plenty of surprises for opponents this season, Blaze coach Mick Scholl said. Despite Smith’s first-game pop with the bat, Scholl said, the team has little power. Nor does it have a true dominant pitcher; Smith is more of a “crafty, carve-’em-up type,” Reger said.
“What we have is a lot of depth and a lot of speed and good defense,” Scholl said. “We look around and it’s not like the cupboards were empty by any means. We have some very good baseball players here.”
Senior captains Smith, Reger and infielder Logan VerMeer were all-South Suburban Conference selections last year. The Blaze will lean heavily on their experience as they break in new starters at several positions.
Still, defense will be the strong point, said Reger, who plays center field. Although a number of positions are still “up for grabs,” he said, it’s a matter of picking between two good players rather than scrambling for an answer.
Catcher Camden Traetow and shortstop Erik Watters, both juniors, have had strong starts, Smith said. And Scholl said a number of pitchers — Brennan Pruszinske, Pete Nordgren and Jake Ruffing, to name a few — should help solidify what the coach had expected to be a “patchwork” rotation to start the spring. Reger, who pitched only four innings last year, also will take the mound more this season.
The South Suburban is one of the state’s toughest conferences. Advancing out of Section 3 this spring, something the Blaze hasn’t done since winning the state title in 2011, won’t be easy, especially with No. 2 Lakeville North in its way.
“We’re hoping to surprise some people,” Reger said. “It’s like Zach’s hit against [Lakeville] South, we just feel like everyone in the lineup is going to get a hit every time up. We might not have the lineups we’ve had before, but I think we can match up with anyone.”