VIRGINIA — Mesabi Range head baseball coach Chris Vito hopes depth added to his team this year will pay dividends as the season progresses.
In the 2019 season, the Norse had some nice talent, but just didn’t have the number of players they really needed, Vito added, which wore the squad down eventually.
“This year I feel we have more depth at all spots,’’ the coach said at practice last week. “On the flip side of that, we were a sophomore dominated team that had been through the league the year before. This year, we have two returning sophomores and a transfer who’s a sophomore that were in the MCAC last year.’’
The Norsemen will begin to find out on Friday just how the new-look team will adapt when they open their season in Orlando, Fla. with a doubleheader against Century College.
Vito said his team will be heading for Florida today and practice Thursday before Friday’s games against the defending Region XIII champions.
What is the outlook for the Norsemen this season?
“I always say this. I say it every year and I don’t think I’ll ever change my philosophy on this. It’s too early to say,’’ Vito said.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that this is brand new to them. So that’s going to be an adjustment.’’
Returning sophomore shortstop Blake Warner of Hastings, Minn., said there is some good and some bad with so much youth on a team. “Just learning the conference and learning who we’re going to face. It’s not like high school. It’s a good thing too. We have a lot of depth and a lot of young, fresh legs.’’
Returning sophomore pitcher and first baseman Kyle Peterson of Zim said he likes the team’s depth at pitching this season. “I think last year we had a few good pitchers but we lacked depth at some times. We would run out of what I would call starting pitchers at early times.’’
In addition, with a lower number of players last year, it was hard to give anyone a break when they needed one, Peterson said.
Vito is looking forward to the Florida trip — which runs through Tuesday — and making the transition from one season to the next. “It will just be interesting to see. It’s too early to tell. That’s what Florida is about is going down there and giving people opportunities to see what they can do, how they need to get better.“You’re not winning championships in March.’’
Looking at the team, Vito said he lost a lot of sophomores. “Our pitching staff was primarily sophomores. Pretty much everywhere (on the roster). The only two people that return significant experience are Kyle on the mound and a little bit at first base and then the outfield and then Blake Warner in the infield. Otherwise, everything you’re going to see is brand new.’’
Despite the losses, fourth-year head coach Vito said he was happy with his recruiting class.
“We’ve added depth in every spot. Behind the plate this is the deepest we’ve been since I’ve been here. We’re pretty deep at every spot. In the outfield, we have guys that can run, we have some decent arms. We feel pretty deep at third base. First base will be decent. They’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill. Brad MacDougall was an All-Conference first baseman for me for two years’’ in 2018 and 2019.
As far as adjusting to the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, the coach said, “this is brand new. It’s no different for these kids that went from junior varsity to varsity. It’s a step up. Everything’s a little faster, a little quicker. That’s no different here. You’re going to see things you didn’t see in high school. It’s a learning curve.’’
Warner is looking to playing in Florida, which will show a whole lot more than practicing inside since Jan. 17. It’s hard to tell what an outfielder has to offer, for example, regarding reading hits and fly balls. “It’s a great opportunity to see what everyone’s got.’’
Former Cherry Tiger Peterson said, playing in Florida is “really a nice way to see what everyone’s got. It’s a lot different than being in here. You can’t judge a ball player based on being in the gym.’’ Playing outdoors shows “how everyone works together and how a lot of our plays will work with different components.’’
Speaking about his young team, Vito said one of the strengths for the Norsemen will just being able to rest players when needed. That sometimes comes in handy when a player is struggling and they can sit and refocus, he added.
“We just didn’t have that a year ago,’’ Vito said with a roster of 15 players.
Once the Norsemen return from Florida, they will head to St. John’s in Collegeville, Minn., to play their junior varsity in two doubleheaders. The games are scheduled for March 21-22.
Mesabi Range also has 10 games scheduled for the new artificial turf field at Mesabi East High School in Aurora.
“We’re really excited about that new facility. I know not only for us, but Vermilion and Rainy (River) have some games scheduled there,’’ Vito stated. “Especially in March, we decided why not take advantage of that. It’s 40 degrees up here, why not get an opportunity to use a brand new, state-of-the-art facility that’s 20 minutes away.’’
With snow and cold often hampering early spring games, the head coach said, “it’s a game changer for the Iron Range to have a facility that close.’’
Mesabi Range is slated to play in Aurora for the first time on March 24 against Vermilion Community College in a doubleheader.