The Iowa high school baseball season has arrived, as Algona is set to open their season on Tuesday, May 16th by hosting the Charles City Comets.
The Bulldogs come off a season that saw them finish 12-17, including a 7-7 mark in the North Central Conference that placed them 5th in the league before falling to ADM in the first round of the class 3A postseason. Webster City once again won the conference title, marking their fourth conference title in a row and fifth in the past six seasons.
Algona Coach Chad Slagle says his team has put in a lot of time this offseason, with an extra emphasis on pitching.
Algona’s pitching staff is set to return three of their four pitchers who threw at least 24 innings in 2022. Returning first team all-conference selection Jensen Eischen tossed 36 innings last year, posting a 3.89 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 16 walks in 36 innings as opponents batted just .141 against him. Eischen will be joined on the mound by fellow senior Austin Steenhoek and sophomore Tate Slagle. Steenhoek finished last season with a 4.48 ERA, along with 35 strikeouts and 29 walks in 29.2 innings, while Slagle pitched 24.2 innings, posting a 5.39 ERA with 33 punchouts and 30 free passes, as opponents hit .114 against him, the lowest opposing average allowed in the NCC.
Coach Slagle is optimistic that the Bulldogs will have some good depth to round out the pitching staff.
Offensively, the Bulldogs were led by second team all-conference selection Tate Slagle, and third team all-conference selection Aiden Ulrich last year. The two freshmen batted .362 and .359 respectively, the top two averages for Algona, while Slagle drove in a team leading 28 runs. Ulrich was second on the team with 21 RBI. Coach Slagle wants to see his young players develop into leaders of the team.
The Bulldogs also return a couple other .300 hitters from last year, with senior Carlos Gomez, who is continuing his baseball career at Northwestern College next year. Gomez hit .304 with two homers and a team-leading 18 steals in 2022. Eischen also contributed a .318 average at the plate for Algona last season.
Algona’s roster will feature four seniors this season. In addition to Eischen, Gomez, and Steenhoek, starting catcher Tristin Larsen returns for his senior campaign. Larson will once again be tasked with controlling the opposing running game, as last year he threw out a conference-leading 18 potential base stealers in 48 attempts. The 18 runners caught stealing were the sixth most in the state and second most in class 3A.
Looking at the rest of the North Central Conference, Coach Slagle feels the top half of the league will be a battle.
According to Slagle, if the Bulldogs compete hard on a night to night basis, some big results could follow.
After the opener against Charles City, Algona is scheduled to visit Spencer on May 18th, host the crosstown game against Bishop Garrigan on the 19th, and host Emmetsburg and Newman Catholic on the 24th and 25th. After those five non-conference opponents to start the season, the Bulldogs will begin North Central play with back to back home games against Webster City and Humboldt on May 26th and 31st respectively.