Yellowjackets baseball wants more consistency

It’s been more of an up-and-down season than Rochester Community and Technical College Yellowjackets baseball coach Steve Hucke would like. The team is 12-12 on the season, including a trip down south to play against some very good competition.

The early season strength of the Yellowjackets has been pitching. The batting order is still looking for a little more consistency, but Hucke said they’ve got the talent to hit the ball well. They’ve also been bitten by the injury bug.

Yellowjackets baseball

RCTC baseball coach Steve Hucke says he’s looking for more consistency from the Yellowjackets, who are 12-12 on the season going into their next action on Thursday, April 13, with a home doubleheader at 2 and 4:00. (article from wn.news.com)

“Our record says we’re .500 and that’s kind of how we’ve been playing,” Hucke said. “We’ll come out one day and play really tough and look really good. For some reason, we’ll come back and I don’t know if we’re satisfied with that or what. I’m happy with the wins but I’m not satisfied with being .500 because I think we’re a better team than that.”

The Yellowjackets baseball team had a  big question mark coming into the season, which was pitching. The team had to replace some good arms from last season but they’ve had some good kids step up and fill some of those roles. He says the unfortunate thing is the batters can’t seem to generate consistent run support.

 

 

“Our relief pitchers have come in and they understand their role that they’re supposed to fill when they enter the game,” Hucke said. “It’s been fun to see them come in and hold leads or get saves, and to pitch well enough for us to have a chance to come back and get a win.”

The first bullpen breakdown of the season didn’t happen until last Sunday when a normally reliable reliever came in, left a pitch up, and gave up three runs to Dakota County Technical College in the seventh inning. However, the Jackets did come back and win the game 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a walk-off base hit.

As he looks up and down the batting lineup, Hucke feels the team has a lot of potential to do some damage at the plate. The biggest challenge right now is the Yellowjackets baseball team is struggling with injuries.

 

 

“We’ve got the sticks to do it,” Hucke said, “we just need our approach at the plate to be a little more consistent and in tune with what we’re trying to do. We’re getting there.”

The team is getting much better defensively after what Hucke called a very rocky start to the season. He said the team likely has more errors to start a season than they’ve had in the last few years. A lot of it may have to do with spending most of their time inside the bubble over the football field working out to suddenly finding themselves outside in the middle of competition, switching from AstroTurf to natural grass.

“You get used to attacking the ball a little bit differently now that you’re on grass versus staying back and waiting for it to get to you on turf,” Hucke said. “We’re making some great plays in the outfield. Our outfielders have been phenomenal and we’re getting there around the infield so I think we’ll be okay.”

The team is coming off a Sunday afternoon split against Dakota County Technical College, dropping the first game 4-0 before coming back in dramatic fashion in the second game, winning 4-3. Hucke said the conference schedule is going to be as competitive as ever this spring.

“Our conference is pretty competitive and very talented,” he said. “We’ve also played one of our toughest non-conference schedules in recent years. We played a lot of tough teams on our spring trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, including a lot of Division 1 and Division 2 teams (scholarship programs). We came out of there at .500 against good teams so I can’t complain too much about that.”

Hucke said the trips down south give the team a chance to get to know each other. It’s important to find out who gets along with who and the team gets to find out about each other.

“Now, they’re forced to be together every day on a bus, in the condominiums where we stay, and out on the diamond,” Hucke said. “They’ll find out what the team is made of after a trip like that.”

The Yellowjackets baseball team is back in action on Thursday, April 13, with a home doubleheader against the St. Mary’s JV squad at 2 and 4:00. They’ll hit the road for a Friday conference doubleheader at St. Cloud Tech with games scheduled for 1 and 3:00.

 

RCTC softball heats up after slow start

RCTC softball heats up

The Yellowjackets softball team will host the CTC tournament this Friday and Saturday at the RCTC dome in Rochester, MN. (photo from myFox47.com)

The Rochester Community and Technical College Yellowjackets softball team is 7-10 on the season. Head Coach Niki Peterson said they’re playing good softball after a slow start to the spring.

The season schedule began with good competition against teams from Iowa, as well as a trip to South Carolina. The Jackets were 0-8 after returning from down south, but have won seven of their past nine games.

“Things have gotten better,” Peterson said. “It’s one of the things I’ve learned coaching junior college softball. It’s a two-year rotation with new people in every year instead of juniors and seniors to lead the way. It takes a little longer for them to acclimate to each other.”

RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson and her Yellowjackets are playing well right now.

RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson’s Yellowjackets have won seven of their last nine games as they get set to host the CTC Classic this Friday and Saturday at the RCTC Dome. (photo from rctcyellowjackets.com

Peterson believes in playing a tougher schedule, which she says makes her team better in the long run. The Yellowjackets didn’t even play an NJCAA Division three team until they returned from South Carolina.

“We played four division two teams in our first tournament,” Peterson said. “We then played Division two, Division one, and one NAIA team when we went on our spring break trip to Myrtle Beach (South Carolina). Our record suffered a little because of it.”

She added, “However, our kids came into the games against the northern schools last week, and we outscored those teams 44-3 in three games.”

After committing multiple defensive errors during the trip south, Coach Peterson said the one area where the team has shown the most improvement is in their defense.

“We were missing McKayla Ahlrich (Sleepy Eye, MN), who’s our starting shortstop,” Peterson said. “She’s a basketball player. It took her a couple games to get comfortable as she hadn’t played since her senior year in high school, but she made a huge difference when she came on.

“We had a ton of errors early in the season,” she said. “We were beating ourselves. We did play some tough competition, but I think we could have hung with them better if our defense was cleaner.”

In addition to the defense, the hitting has picked up considerably as well.

“Christina Stanger (of Stewartville) was one of our leaders at the plate from last year,” Peterson said. “She struggled early on, but has come on hot the last few games. She was seven for ten at the plate with two home runs in the three games last week.”

Injuries are a part of every season and sports, and it’s been no different so far with the Yellowjackets.

“Haley Vanourney (Marion, IA) is one of our captains and one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Coach Peterson said. “She sustained a concussion during the trip to Myrtle Beach and we lost her for a week. She’s back and swinging the bat well.

“Sammy Hogan (Palatine, IL) hits third in the order for us,” Peterson said, “and she’s been crushing the ball all year. Hogan’s hitting well over .600 for us.

One thing the coaching staff stresses at the plate is getting a quality at bat, no matter what the outcome is. She said the kids are buying into that system.

“It’s okay if you step in and that first pitch isn’t your favorite,” Peterson said. “It’s okay not to swing at it. We were swinging at pitches that might not be our favorites and we were hitting easy-out ground balls or popups. We’re focused on picking out a good pitch to hit and hitting it hard.”

The pitching mound will see some good depth this year. Up to four Yellowjackets may see some time out on the mound.

RCTC softball and pitcher Sammy Hogan are warming up

RCTC softball pitcher Sammy Hogan was named the National Junior College Athletic Association Division Three player of the week on March seventh and 14th. (photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)

“Our top one-two pitchers are Sammy Hogan (two time NJCAA Division Three Player of the Week) and Quincy Gross (Columbia Heights, MN),” Peterson said. “They’re doing well. In her last two starts, Sammy threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter. Quincy is battling a little, but when she’s on, she’s tough. She’s got good movement on her pitches.

She added, “Haley Vanourney will also pitch for us. She’s a nice counterbalance for us. She’s doesn’t throw quite as hard, but has nice movement on her pitches. McKayla Ahlrich will also throw a few pitches as well.”

The Jackets will host the CTC invitational at the RCTC dome this Friday and Saturday. The other teams will include Rainy River Community College, Vermillion Community College, Hibbing Community College, and Madison College.

Here’s the complete Yellowjackets roster:

 

No.   Name        Pos.  B/T  Cl.     Ht.    Hometown/High School

14     McKayla Ahlrich        P/INF                FR            Sleepy Eye, MN / Sleepy Eye

 

20     Kayla Branstad C/INF                FR            Northwood, IA / Northwood-Kensett

 

10     Ashleigh Dralle Utility                SO             Farmington, MN / Randolph

 

16     Brittany Ellis     Outfield             FR            Lansing, IA / Kee High

 

12     Paige Gadient    Utility                SO             Goodhue, MN / Goodhue

 

7       Quincy Gross    P/INF                FR            Columbia Heights, MN / Columbia Heights

 

15     Sammy Hogan  P/INF                SO             Palatine, IL / St. Viator

 

5       Makayla Kaeppel       OF            FR            Hawkeye, IA / North Fayette Valley

 

3       Shantel Loos     Infield               FR            Rochester, MN / Century

 

18     Emmy Miller     INF           SO             Cannon Falls, MN / Cannon Falls

 

13     Jordan O’Connor       OF            SO             Preston, MN / Fillmore-Central

 

4       Christina Stanger      OF            SO             Stewartville, MN / Stewartville

 

1       Haley Vanourney      C/P/INF           SO             Marion, IA / Marion

 

 

 

RCTC softball gearing up for the postseason

YellowjacketsThe Rochester Community and Technical College softball team is 27-14 on the season and ranked at number four in the national Division 3 top ten as they finish the regular season schedule on Thursday, April 30, hosting a doubleheader with Riverland College, a team the Yellowjackets swept in their first matchup back in early April.

The 27 wins so far have come in spite of having a very young roster and a first-year head coach in Niki Peterson. The Jackets took a doubleheader from Minnesota West Community and Technical College to start the final week of the regular season on Tuesday. Peterson said they played well.

RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)

RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)

“It’s helps when your pitching is that on,” said Peterson. “We hit the ball well, and we’ve done that most of the season, except when we’ve faced some of the tougher Division One and Division Two competition. Overall, our hitting has been pretty solid all year.”

She said the Yellowjackets are a threat to take the ball deep up and down the lineup.

8 of the 9 players in the RCTC starting lineup have at least one home run (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)

8 of the 9 players in the RCTC starting lineup have at least one home run (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)

“I think everyone in our starting lineup but one has at least one home run,” said Peterson. “We have power, but we also have some speed on the base paths. Ashley Bunting (Redwood Falls, MN) is actually leading the nation in stolen bases with 62.”

The roster doesn’t contain a lot of experience at the college level. “We only have five sophomores on the roster,” said Peterson, “and only four are in our starting lineup. The other one is out with a torn ACL.”

“Coming in as a first year head coach, I just didn’t know what to expect,” said Peterson. “I knew the sophomore class because I was an assistant coach last year, and I knew their capabilities. With all the knew faces coming in and they weren’t my recruits, I just didn’t know a lot about them.”

Peterson added, “Two of our best players this spring are walk-ons. Kristen Erickson is a J-M (Rochester John Marshall) graduate who I actually recruited two years ago, but she took a year off and came back. Amber Gehrke is a Zumbrota-Mazeppa graduate who reached out to me and said she’d just been attending school and decided she wanted to play.”

On-field leadership is coming from a recent Stewartville high school graduate.

“Christina Stanger is a freshman who plays like a four-year senior,” said Peterson. “She leads this team off the field and on the field too. She leads vocally, physically, and keeps the team in the game mentally. She’s an all-around leader, and to have her doing that as a freshman is great for me as a coach, but it’s also great to have her for another season.”

One of the sophomore leaders is catcher Katie Gatzlaff, a native of Springfield, Minnesota.  Peterson said, “Katie runs the show behind the plate, and the team relies on her experience for leadership out on the field at gametime.”

A deep pitching staff is another strength of this spring’s team.

“We actually have five pitchers,” said Peterson. “They’re all very capable and could be starters for other teams in our conference. The two leaders on the staff are Alexis Schunke (Stewartville MN) and Laura Chalmers (Red Wing MN). Alexis actually threw a perfect game in our second win over Minnesota West on Tuesday.”

Peterson added, “She was just on. She hit her spots, and that was obviously the best she’s thrown all year.”

The Yellowjackets head to postseason action after the final doubleheader on April 30.

“We’re off to regions,” said Peterson. “It’s next week, on May 7 and 8. The conference champion will host the tournament, so as games wrap up this week, we’ll find out where we’re going.”

Update:  The YellowJackets finished the season by sweeping Minnesota West in a doubleheader, winning game one 11-1, before taking the nightcap 19-3 to finish the season at 29-14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RCTC baseball ready for conference play

The Rochester Community and Technical College baseball team is 15-6 on the season after splitting a doubleheader with Iowa Central Community College this week, winning the opener 7-4 before dropping the nightcap 5-3.

The Yellowjackets will play back-to-back doubleheaders this weekend, at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids on Saturday, April 18, before returning home to face St. Cloud Technical and Community College on Sunday. Rochester head coach Steve Hucke said the Jackets will face some good competition this year in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference.

RCTC baseball coach Steve Hucke is in his 12th season with the school, and sports a 228-208 career record. (photo from RCTC.edu)

RCTC baseball coach Steve Hucke is in his 13th season with the school, and sports a 240-230-1 career record. (photo from RCTC.edu)

“Our conference is split into north and south divisions,” said Hucke, “and the south division is really competitive. St. Cloud Tech (Sunday’s opponent, weather permitting) has been to the Junior College World Series two of the last three years; we’ve been to the World Series, Riverland Community College in Austin has been to the World Series, so the southern part of the state is very competitive.”

Pitching is a big key to the success of the Yellowjackets so far.

 

 

The pitching staff can strike batters out consistently, but recently have been putting the ball in play and letting their fielders make plays behind them.

“It’s gone back and forth, like earlier this week, it was more about putting the ball in play and letting the defense play behind them,” said Hucke. “We’re getting good help defensively, and I think the pitchers are throwing with more confidence and not afraid to attack hitters because we’re making the routine plays as well as some big plays too.”

The Jackets don’t have a lot of experience up and down this spring’s roster.

“We’re a young team with a lot of freshmen out there,” said Hucke, “But they’ve adapted pretty well and are starting to step up their game more. They’ve got a good confidence level going now.”

“Usually, we have a good mix of sophomores to go with freshmen,” said Hucke. “We usually have about 12 to 15 sophomores and about that same amount of freshmen on the roster. Unfortunately, we had a few kids decide to go somewhere else and not play baseball and just go to school. Now, we’re down to seven sophomores, and of that seven, I’d say four are our main contributors.”

The 2015 Yellowjackets roster features players from southeast Minnesota, as well as Iowa, and even as far away as New York.

“We get kids from this area as well as around Rochester,” said Hucke. “I’m originally from Iowa and I get some players from there, and we get some kids from Wisconsin. We have a few kids from the Twin Cities, and even a couple from New York, wherever we can find them.”

Pitching and defense are strengths of the team, but Hucke said the offense is going pretty well too.

“We’re batting over 300 as a team,” said Hucke. “We’re getting a lot of good quality at-bats, moving guys over and getting them into scoring position. In situational hitting, we’re doing very well. We put a lot of pressure on  RCTC baseballdefenses by having guys on base all the time.”

“We’re going deep into the count too,” said Hucke, “and making pitchers pitch well and not chasing bad pitches. When you have a young group and can get those kinds of at-bats, you’re successful. With freshmen, you’re always worried about them coming in and being free swingers and falling back into bad habits.”

Hucke talked about Saturday’s opponent and what they’ll see from Anoka-Ramsey: