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home : sports : wilmington March 29, 2017

3/7/2017 5:51:00 PM
'Cats will carry a big stick
by Brent Sumner
Staff writer

Wilmington's baseball program will take the field next week, looking to improve off a rebuilding season last year.

In 2016, the Wildcats were in transition under first-year coach Mike Bushnell, who was assisted by coaches Matt Hines, Will Jansen, Tim Hooker and Tony Breese.

There may be a few uncertainties in 2017 with the lost of five seniors to graduation, but Bushnell welcomes back a handful of lettermen who were heavy hitters as juniors.

Those five seniors who graduated include two starters, Steve Smock and Luke Mann. The Wildcats also lost Brandon Wirkus, Brady Villarreal and Cole Thompson.

However, coach Bushnell remains confident, especially with a solid core of seniors taking over this year.

Three top seniors returning to the program this year will be RJ VanDuyne, Dillon Tjelle and Sam Jones.

"Dillon Tjelle has the most experience on the mound for us and should do well," said Bushnell. "As was the case last year, we have a lot of young arms, and we will see early in the season who can fill in the staff."

Tjelle finished last season with 36 strikeouts in 33.2 innings pitched. He is a three-year starter who is confident enough to pitch himself out of a jam.

RJ Van Duyne was also a three-year player, and will see time at first base. He has also been known to throw some innings on the mound as well.

Van Duyne and the other returning senior, Sam Jones, were Wilmington's best hitters returning from last year.

Van Duyne held an average of .444, while Jones followed with a .353. They combined for eight home runs and 64 RBIs.

One more returning senior will be Brett McWilliams, who brought some talent to the plate and will also be relied on in the outfield.

Coach Bushnell will be bringing up two sophomore pitchers, adding some depth to the bullpen.

Conner Dempsay finished his freshman year with a .466 batting average, along with an 1.8 ERA on the mound.

He will be joined by fellow sophomore Mark Youngquist, who had a .403 batting average and a 3.5 ERA.

Wilmington, who finished 16-15 overall last year, will have a tough road ahead, but will be looking to surpass their finish last year, where they lost in the Regional opener to Bishop McNamara.

The Wildcats will kick off their season on Tuesday, when they host Morris for the home opener.

Wilmington will then travel to Pontiac on Thursday, before returning home against Clifton Central for a weekend double-header.

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