Eau Claire, Altoona (WQOW) -- Mother Nature might not agree, but the high school baseball season is right around the corner.
Eau Claire Regis finished third in the Cloverbelt conference last season. The Ramblers enter the 2014 campaign primed to take the next step with 12 letterwinners returning this year. For now Regis if forced to practice indoors, but coach Andy Niese hopes that changes soon.
"Typically we have things geared for two weeks inside, beyond that you have to get a little creative at that point, because you cannot move the ceilings, you can't move the bleachers," says Niese. "But we stress to the kids that everybody in the area in Northwest Wisconsin is in the same predicament as we are."
The Ramblers return four of the team's top five batters from a year ago, but the real strength of the team might be its rotation.
"Pitching depth and pitching quality," adds Niese. "We have anywhere from four to six guys that we think, at least early on, can keep us in games."
Senior pitcher Max Sires says: "When I was younger I had a lot of guys that were helping me out, so I try and do the same for these young guys. Just helping them out in open gyms and just try and show them how it works out."
Regis opens the season April 7th against Black River Falls.
Over in Altoona, the Rails are coming off a Cloverbelt conference title. That success came a price, with the team forced to replace 11 seniors. Unlike Regis, Altoona coach Jay Johnson says practicing indoors could be what his team needs.
"I want to get outside as soon as we can, but if we're in the gym an extra week or so, it's actually going to help us," says Johnson. "We have a lot of young guys that need to learn all of our plays and get more reps in the cage and stuff like that."
Altoona's roster might be green, but that's not to say the new starters don't have plenty of minutes logged on the diamond.
"It's about playing good summer ball and good competition. You know, the younger guys were only sophomores and they were playing senior legion, which is a great experience. And they went to state and saw some phenomenal pitching down there," says Johnson.
"We're going to have a great pitching staff this year. We have three good pitchers at the top and then we have two guys who can throw against some of the more average teams in our conference," adds senior pitcher Forrest Mazzei.
Altoona begins the season with the team that ended theirs last year, Prescott, on April 4th.
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