By Andrew Seavey

Last season the Cass City baseball program had their best finish in school history, winning the Greater Thumb West title, a regional title, and advancing to the Division 3 state quarterfinals before losing to eventual state runner-up, Algonac 11-1.

Coming off the historic run, the Red Hawks return the brunt of their pitching and hitting contributors from their 26-13 season, so their expectations are to compete for a spot in East Lansing.

“I’m really looking forward to those guy’s coming back, and having pretty much all my starting arms returning,” Cass City Head Coach Morgan Erla said.

“With doing as well as we did, I’m really looking forward to hopefully doing even better than last year,” Erla said.

After posing a team earned run average of 2.12 last season, Cass City will rely heavily on their dual ace’s junior, Carson Anthes and senior, Carter Patrick to be their 1-2 punch on the mound this season.

Anthes, an MLive Dream Team finisher went 10-0 on the hill, tallying 100 strikeouts and a 1.17 ERA in 65.2 innings pitched during his sophomore season.

“Baseball is his love, and he wants to go on and play,” Erla said. “He’s thrown multiple no-hitters for us on varsity, and he started for me since his freshmen year. His development and preparation during the offseason is huge. He just buys in.

His counterpart, Patrick has went 7-2 last year, notching 66 K’s, while sporting a 1.69 ERA in 53.2 innings of work.

“We talk about competitors, and just the grit and fight he (Patrick) has day in and day out in competition is just awesome,” Erla said.

Patrick pitched the Red Hawks to a stunning 2-1 victory over Division 3 power Detroit Edison in the Regional Final.

Cass City also has a number of arms who will be stepping into larger roles this season, including Matt Mellendorf and Gavin Franzel.

In 8.2 innings of action last season, Mellendorf made the most of his opportunity striking out 5 and posting a 1.61 ERA.

Franzel saw 18 innings of action, punching out 16 with an ERA of 3.37.

“Gavin is going to have to step up this year to close some games, but he’s got some wicked stuff,” Erla said.

This season the pitching staff will work with newcomer, Ryker Wallace behind the plate.

“He didn’t play last year, but he’s just a raw athlete,” Erla said. “Football is his thing, but he’s bought into everything and shown us a lot of effort. It’s good to watch him swing the bat and good to watch him behind the plate throwing, and just buying into the philosophies we are trying to teach and uphold.”

The Red Hawks return plenty of experience in the batter’s box including Patrick (Carter) and Jackson Anthony, who hit .323 and .313, respectively.

Although just a freshman, Anthony led the team with 36 hits and 28 runs batted in.

Mellendorf, Franzel, and Anthes also are expected to have improved offensive numbers after showcasing promise last year.

With all of the athleticism the team possesses, Erla has honed in on the emergence of leaders on his roster full of a wide variety of ages.

“Knowing the potential we had athletically, we wanted to make sure we could match that from the leadership standpoint,” Erla said. “Especially being so young and needing some of those guys to step into some leadership roles that they haven’t had to yet.”

The Red Hawks know that in order to build upon last year, they’ll have to continue building culture and chemistry.

“The skills and the drills are important, but the makeup of the team and the camaraderie are almost more important when it comes to the end of the season,” Erla said. “We’ve always done team meals and things like that to help promote that a little bit and create a brotherhood to carry through some of that adversity that you’re going to face.”

Erla has also prioritized mental toughness and having a strong mind, so that the team can achieve its on paper goals such as winning 25 games.

“I’m kind of hard on them,” Erla said. “I give them a lot to think about and process. We always talk about controlling the controllables. That’s a huge thing for the last several years. There’s only so much we can do. So, not letting out minds get the best of us.”

“A lot of those mental things and leadership things are honestly our goals,” Erla said. “If we do those things and practice hard every day, then the reward is going to come.”

Throughout the season the Red Hawks will play non-conference opponents including Freeland, Frankenmuth, Goodrich, and Standish-Sterling, who will all be competitive teams in their respective conferences.

“We tried to schedule the toughest non-conference that we could, to hopefully make our conference games feel easier,” Erla said. “Over half of our opponents are Division 1 and Division 2 programs.”

“I try to pick games that are going to challenge us a little bit more knowing that we might not have the best record at the end of the year, but we’re going to be much more prepared,” Erla said.

Early this year the Red Hawks have hit the ground running, playing early season matchups with Crosswell-Lexington and Flint Kearsley, battling their way to a 1-1-1 record.