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Experienced Redhawks head into summer poised as conference favorites

May 25, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Head Coach: Dan Kopriva

2018 Record: 16-10 (L in Second Round of Districts to Hudson 1-0)

The North Tama baseball program has seen consistent winning seasons in recent memory, yet the 2018 season saw an unproven Redhawk lineup take to J.L. Lister Field in late May. By early July, the Redhawks had clinched a conference title and pulled out 16 wins behind their few upperclassmen, two of which contributed heavily on the mound.

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"Last season we had a lot of question marks and didn't know quite where we would be ," coach Dan Kopriva said. "We ended up winning the conference, which was big for us going forward. [Hale] Hulme stepped up on the mound, Lance Zobel pitched excellent to give us a great one-two punch with those two. It was a turnaround year last season and we expect a lot more from them this year."

Rounding out this years senior class are Cael Even, Tyler Morrison, Chase Morrison, Hale Hulme, Parker Hulme and Izach Henson, three of whom just went to State for track events and Kopriva will rely heavily on for a speedy offense. Junior Tate Payne will fit right in with that mindset after stealing 24 bases last year as the leadoff hitter and Skyler Staker will send his teammates home after batting in 27 runners in 2018.

"We've got team speed, so we will take advantage of that," Kopriva said. "We'll really work on base running, stealing, putting pressure on defenses. We have experience back everywhere defensively. With Hale Hulme on the mound, I do believe we're good as any team out there. It's nice to have that ace, but a big key is developing [Ryan McLean] and Parker Hulme and other pitchers. They have to step it up a notch if we want to be a great team."

Hale Hulme's importance to the team isn't limited to just pitching as he will be continue to hit from the second spot in the lineup after posting 30 runs in 2018 to go along with batting in 25 runners. When not pitching, Hulme will take over whatever position his relief or game pitcher normally occupies, whether it be first base or catcher. After breaking into the lineup as the designated hitter as an eighth grader last season, Gabe Kopriva will be relied on more for his hitting. Past those top four in the lineup, Kopriva believes the five through nine hitters will be dependent on who begins to prove themselves early in the season and likes Tyler Morrison in the last spot for speed and hitting.

Fresh off a third place finish with his shuttle hurdle teammates at State, Hulme will continue to be the number one pitcher for the Redhawks, who compiled a 5-3 record and 11 starts. The senior has worked on pitching in the offseason and getting used to new catchers. Hulme will also catch and play first during the year as he hopes to improve upon 2018.

"My thoughts on last season was it was pretty average for us," Hulme said. "We're usually in the 20-win range, but last year we were down a few games we could have won. I'm excited for this year because we have a lot upperclassmen. I believe everyone in the starting lineup except for Gabe is a junior or senior, so with that experience we can can go pretty far."

The lone loss to the team last year was senior Lance Zobel, which opens pitches for McLean, Parker Hulme and others. Kopriva seems Even, who was injured for almost all of the 2018, as a potential starter for the Redhawks.

"Some other guys will definitely rotate in," Kopriva said. "Breck Hulme, Devin McKinley look good out there. I really feel we have some bench players this year that can really help out this year."

Another senior looking to make an impact this season for the Redhawks is Izach Henson, who's glove on third proved so invaluable in Kopriva's eyes he left him out on defense after falling from the lineup last season. Since then, Henson has been working on his hitting and looking forward to a busier schedule this season, which includes a trip to Duane Banks Field at the University of Iowa to take on West Fork on July 9 and competing for another conference title this summer.

"It felt really good to win conference last season," Henson said. "I believe it had been three years since we won our last conference title, so I'm hoping we can repeat again. It's fun to play a lot of ball and I'm excited to play at a big field at U of I."

Hitting will be an area of focus for Kopriva as he hopes experience will bring up the team's .274 average and speed will allow for more runs.

"We need to pick up on our offense and drive the ball to the fence more like we were seeing at the end of last season," Kopriva said. "Our other question is who is our number two pitcher without Lance. I know we have pitchers, yet we need someone in our pitching staff to pick it up."

Kopriva believes the Redhawks are unquestionably the conference favorites this season as opposed to his previous seasons where North Tama came in as underdogs. Don Bosco and Clarksville are other favorites in the Iowa Star conference and the Redhawks will have a challenging non-conference schedule in BCLUW, Alburnett and Roland-Story. With the experience returning, Kopriva and his seniors look to make State in their last season to cap off a strong 2018-19 year that saw a football playoff berth and trip to the Blue Oval in track.

"These seniors gained a lot from last season, yet we're behind on preparation because of track having a great year," Kopriva said. "We'll pick it up here soon. We're excited to play at Duane Banks because it's a great field and will be a fun experience for everyone. We're all looking forward to that."

As the season begins, Kopriva will look to the seniors to led by example as they address "the little details" with the team over the course of these opening weeks.

"Teamwork, playing as a unit, knowing each other strengths will make this team successful this year," Henson said. "Our goal this year is definitely to be back-to-back conference champions because we haven't had that since 2004-05. We want to make it to State this year. It's great to have a big senior class who knows each others strengths. We have a good season ahead of us."

The Redhawks opened their season 2-1 with a loss to Colo-Nesco 11-9 and then railing off wins against Gladbrook-Reinbeck 4-3 and Baxter 12-0. North Tama competed in a Memorial Day tournament at BCLUW on Monday, May 27.



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