Crusaders looking foward to playing on real grass as season opens

Trevor Schnieders is back for the Helias Crusaders this season.

Trevor Schnieders is back for the Helias Crusaders this season. Photo by Kris Wilson.

Mid-Missouri’s recent bout with snow had the Helias Crusaders improvising to find places for baseball practice.

Not one of them has been an actual baseball field.

“We’ve been on the parking lot, we’ve been out at 63 Sports Complex, where we can a least get some space for things like working on cutoffs and things like that,” Helias coach Chris Wyrick said as the Crusaders prepared to open the season with a doubleheader today against Springfield Glendale and Jefferson City at Vivion Field.

“But it’s been like that for almost everybody. The team that adjusts the fastest to being on an actual field will be the one that gets off to a good start to the season.”

One thing the Crusaders have had a chance to work on is pitching. And due to a variety of things — surgery, car accidents and injuries — depth is a concern on the mound.

“It’s a depleted group, but it’s got guys who will give us a chance to stay in games and that’s all you ask,” Wyrick said. “We’re not going to ask these guys to shut people out or strike out 15, just keep us in the game.”

The staff will be anchored by a pair of seniors in Cole Distler and Trevor Schnieders. The other healthy pitchers at the start of the season are juniors Andy Devine, Matt Rehagen and Aaron Sachse.

“We’re going to space out the pitching we have and hopefully score some runs,” Wyrick said. “It’s a case of the next man up.”

Garrett Buschjost will miss the season due to injuries suffered in a car accident, while Todd Buschjost is out after surgery. Jared Bentlage, a senior, and junior Brock Gerstner are both nursing sore arms and may not be available to pitch until the middle of the season, Wyrick said.

“Until they are healthy enough to throw, they won’t pitch,” he said.

The Crusaders may dip into the unproven ranks, if necessary.

“We may throw a kid who’s not a pitcher to try and get us a couple of innings,” Wyrick said.

The pitching situation should be sorted out by the end of the season.

“We should get to the point when we are healthy that we can settle on a few guys,” Wyrick said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Bentlage’s arm woes have caused a position change. He was going to start the season at shortstop, but has moved to second in an attempt to save wear and tear on his arm with shorter throws. Joe Reinkemeyer, another senior, will move from second to short.

Lane Caldwell, a senior, will start at first base, with Rehagen also seeing time at the position.

When he’s not on the mound, Distler will start at third base. Christian Hake, a junior, will get the nod when Distler is pitching.

Alex Barton, a sophomore, will start at catcher.

“He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid and I think he’ll do a very good job back there,” Wyrick said.

Schnieders will start in the outfield. Others in the mix include senior Jordan Backes and juniors Hayden Lee, Caleb Allen and Gerstner. Allen, a transfer from the state of California, will also see time as the Helias designated hitter.

The Crusaders haven’t done much live hitting, but Wyrick said the team has looked good with the bat in basic drills.

“They’re doing fine, they’re hitting the ball hard,” Wyrick said.

Helias likely won’t feature much over-the-fence power. But the Crusaders look to have a group of line-drive hitters who can find gaps.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have the pop to get doubles and triples,” Wyrick said. “We’re going to need to score some runs to stay in games, whether that’s with extra-base hits or bunting for hits or sacrifices.

“When we get guys on base, we’re going to have to get them in. We can’t afford to let those opportunities slip by.”

Wyrick is counting on his six seniors to have big seasons.

“This is their chance, we’re counting on them to lead us with their experience,” Wyrick said. “We need them to be consistent and carry on from what they did as juniors.”

Helias opens the season at 1 p.m. against Glendale, followed by the only scheduled meeting between the Crusaders and Jays this season at 4 p.m.

“It’s no big deal,” Wyrick said of playing the Jays so early in the season, noting for years it was the first game of the season. “It doesn’t matter when you play J.C., it’s always a big game.”

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