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March 25, 2014 | 04:11 PM
The Badger baseball team had its first practice on Monday night, and are preparing for their first game of the season, tentatively scheduled for April 5 at Big Foot High School. But with snow still on the ground, Badger head coach Aaron Zweifel anticipates a cancellation.

"Technically we're supposed to play down at Big Foot a week from this Saturday," Zweifel said. "If it gets to be 60 (degrees) and sunny and windy for the next week straight, maybe we'll have a chance, but I don't anticipate that happening."

Badger graduated eight players last season, and five seniors will return to action this year.

"So lots of new faces," Zweifel said. "There's other teams that are going to have a lot more coming back than us, so we are kind of anticipating that teams are going to overlook us, but we're really excited about it. We have a very strong junior class to go along with those seniors that we have coming back."

Among the five seniors is slugger Derek Denecke, who had a .447 batting average last season. Last year, Denecke was a batting luxury Zweifel could afford to use boost offensive production at the bottom of the order. This year, Denecke will be at the core of the lineup.

"He's definitely going to have to be one of our guys solidifying the middle of that order," Zweifel said. "I could see him hitting anywhere from two to five in the order. He's definitely going to have to be a major catalyst for everything that's going on this year."

All the returning varsity players were part of leagues last summer and fall Zweifel said.

"Those kids have had anywhere from 150 to 200 at bats since last year," he said. "They've really worked hard getting themselves ready to go and making the most of the opportunity this year."

Zweifel said that he has been stressing the importance of team chemistry this year — with eight players gone from last year, a lot of spots have opened up.

"Competition is going to be wide open," Zweifel said. "We've got to compete in practice to make each other better and to be ready to go especially with this weather here. Realistically, like everybody else, our first day outside could be game day."

Two of the eight players who gradated from last year's team were Badger's two best pitchers, Zweifel said. One was the team's ace on the mound who started four years on varsity. Both now play college ball, Zweifel said.

"We need to find our pitchers," Zweifel said. "This year, we've got a lot of guys who can throw, I don't know if we have anyone who is going to be as dominant as those guys. I think we're going to have to play a lot of defense behind them. We talked about, the pitcher's job is to throw strikes, our job is to help them out; field the ball and make routine plays. We should be pretty strong defensively."

Zweifel anticipates defense will be one of the team's greatest assets — they have some great fielders.

But right now, it's very early, and it's difficult to tell exactly what will become of this year's team. Zweifel is hoping to surprise people. Before their first game the team will be practicing a lot indoors, which isn't ideal for an outdoor sport.

"We're fortunate our facilities are great at Badger," Zweifel said. "We've got cages inside and we can spread out enough where we can get some defensive stuff done, obviously we can't set up our whole infield and outfield together."

But he said he has no doubt his team is going to work hard regardless of the practice environment.

"And I have no doubt that they're going to be good teammates," Zweifel said.

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