JJ Malecha

Bethlehem Academy senior JJ Malecha operated as the team’s No. 1 pitcher two seasons ago as a sophomore. He and Bo Dienst enter the 2021 season as the two senior leaders for the Cardinals. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

The combination of a lost season in 2020 and a potential washout of practice this week has Bethlehem Academy baseball coach Ed Friesen bracing for what likely will be a reality across the state of Minnesota.

For the first couple weeks of the season, it might be best to look the other way at some of the defensive miscues with the knowledge that as repetitions accumulate execution will improve.

“I feel like every coach that has a defense first mentality, I’m nervous about what we’re going to do out in the field,” Friesen said. “I want to be crisp and sharp out there, and probably like everybody else in those first games in April, you’re just not as crisp and sharp with your decisions and your throws and so on.”

Through the opening stages of practice, Friesen said he’s been pleased with the enthusiasm of the Cardinals to work off some of that early rust, and he credits his pair of seniors Bo Dienst and JJ Malecha with leading that mentality.

Dienst and Malecha are both holdovers from Bethlehem Academy’s starting lineup in 2019, while juniors Henry Schoolmeesters and Aiden Tobin both received a fair amount of playing time two years ago as freshman. For the most part, however, the shape of the Cardinals this season is still a bit distorted.

“It’s been two years since we’ve taken the diamond, so we’re just seeing where everybody’s at,” Friesen said.

Friesen said that as it stands now, Bethlehem Academy’s roster doesn’t feature a true equilibrium in terms of positional balance, with the Cardinals a bit heavy on natural infielders and light on those that have grown up patrolling the outfield.

Through the first couple weeks of the season, that positional flexibility is one area set to receive plenty of attention as Friesen filters through different lineup combinations to find the best few that provide the clearest path toward victories.

“That’s the other part, here, is getting reps on fielding balls and getting reps in game situations so we’re making an accurate throw to the right place that we need to make that throw,” Friesen said. “Those are things you just have to keep practicing and keep getting reps on.”

The questions Bethlehem Academy is facing are not unique, with every team in Minnesota dealing with how to quickly evaluate a roster that largely lacks varsity experience. Because of that, forecasting and setting goals on where Friesen wants to finish in the Gopher Conference is difficult, so the Cardinals are starting the season aiming toward a different type of goal.

“Going into the season, I think there’s question marks about where we’ll be in terms of the conference and so on,” Friesen said. “My first formal goal here is that we’re going to hustle and play hard and that we’re going to have fun, and that those things will be our (team’s) characteristics.”

VARSITY ROSTER

Bo Dienst, senior

JJ Malecha, senior

Jax Bokman, junior

Hunter Dillon, junior

Andrew Donahue, junior

Luke Halvorson, junior

Matt Nelson, junior

Henry Schoolmeesters, junior

Aiden Tobin, junior

Hunter Conrad, sophomore

Zach Donkers, sophomore

Jordan Simones, sophomore

Andrew Caron, freshman

Michael Crone, freshman

Hudson Dillon, freshman

2021 SCHEDULE

April 12 — vs. NRHEG, 5 p.m.

April 15 — at United South Central, 5 p.m.

April 19 — vs. Blooming Prairie, 5 p.m.

April 22 — at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, 5 p.m.

April 26 — vs. Hayfield, 5 p.m.

April 29 — vs. Medford, 5 p.m.

May 3 — at Kenyon-Wanamingo, 4:30 p.m.

May 4 — at NRHEG, 5 p.m.

May 8 — vs. United South Central, 11 a.m.

May 10 — at Blooming Prairie, 5 p.m.

May 13 — vs. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, 4:30 p.m.

May 17 — at Hayfield, 7 p.m.

May 20 — vs. Maple River, 7 p.m.

May 24 — at Medford, 5 p.m.

May 27 — at Maple River, 5 p.m.

Reach Regional Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106 or follow him on Twitter @APGSoMnHughes. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Sports Editor for the Northfield News. Also a California native looking for tips on surviving the winter and an Indiana University grad on the quest for a good breaded pork tenderloin.

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