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A helpful start: Dickinson receives good news before beginning of American Legion season

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson’s Dylan Skabo, middle right, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run against Sturgis (S.D.) during an American Legion baseball game on July 9, 2013, at Southside Municipal Ballpark and Astoria Field.

Before the opening pitch, the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion baseball team received good news.

The rule of players returning after being one year removed from high school still stands.

The proposed rule, which would have disallowed players to return after the 2014 season, was overturned.

Dickinson head coach Cory Hansen said the overturned rule helps every small-market team. The smaller market teams in North Dakota Class 2A include Dickinson, Williston, Mandan and Jamestown.

“It was a big push at the last meeting,” Hansen said. “I definitely wanted that not to happen. We are a small-market team. We don’t get as many kids as Bismarck.

“That helps us out a bunch, because next year we’ll get two or three guys back.”

The only player for the Roughriders who could return this season is Alex Huschka. The right-handed pitcher/outfielder spent the 2013-14 season as a redshirt freshman for the Dickinson State baseball team.

Huschka was glad the rule was overturned to allow future players to play an additional season of Legion baseball.

“That rule is only fair because we are one of the smaller cities,” he said. “We need as much help as we can get with kids returning. We have 24 kids trying out on our team — not 50 like Fargo and all those cities. I’m glad it got reversed and kids can come back.”

Brett Schweitzer, who recently graduated from Dickinson High School, has the ability to return next summer to play for the Roughriders.

“I’m jacked about it personally,” Schweitzer said. “It will be good to know that I get to play with the guys for another year.

“We definitely need this.”

Schweitzer, along with Dylan Skabo and Dylan Wallner, can return from one more Legion season. The two recently graduated seniors in their final years of eligibility are Cole Anderson and Tanner Hopfauf.

The Roughriders ended the 2013 season 25-24 overall and 7-11 in the conference. Dickinson finished fourth at the state tournament.

In the 2014 preseason coaches’ poll, Dickinson was picked to finish fourth. Fargo Post 2 — the defending state champions — received six first-place votes for the top spot. Bismarck was picked to finish runner-up and Grand Forks is third.

The Roughriders return eight players with at least one or more years of Legion experience. Dickinson also has four players with one year of high school experience or who played baseball last summer for the Dickinson Volunteers Senior Babe Ruth team.

“They been around my little set of drills and things I like to get done,” Hansen said. “It’s kind of nice that you don’t have to repeat yourself multiple times. Things are pretty crisp and clean.”

Huschka won’t play in the team’s opener against Fargo Post 400 at 4 p.m. Friday because he will start against West Fargo at noon Saturday.

“I’ve been with these guys since I was eight or nine years old and I’ve been playing baseball with them since then,” said Huschka, who finished with a 5-4 record and a 3.23 earned run average with a 29 strikeouts over 47 2/3 innings last season. “This is my last year and I want to go out with a bang. Being out on the field is awesome. I’m really excited to see what this year has to bring for us.”

Schweitzer had a breakout 2013 summer season with a 4-1 record with a 2.31 ERA. Dickinson is returning six players with at least 14 or more innings pitched.

The other starters are Luke Herauf, Mark Erickson, Skabo and Anderson. Herauf also posted a 4-1 record last year.

“We are feeling confident and ready to compete with everybody,” Schweitzer said. “We still have to make the plays, slow the game down and do everything we need to do to get a win. We need to look at the big picture and have to go game by game throughout the season.”

The Roughriders are also returning a solid presence at the plate, bringing back seven of their top eight hitters.

Herauf had a team-high .385 batting average with nine doubles, four home runs, 32 RBI and 38 runs scored. Herauf posted an on-base percentage of .503 after collecting 27 walks.

Skabo was ranked second with a .373 average, team highs in RBI (35), runs scored (45) and steals (13). He also finished with nine doubles, three triples and a home run.

Huschka and Erickson hit .349 and .319, respectively. Both had 15 or more RBI and scored 20 or more runs. Both had seven extra-base hits as Huschka had six doubles and one triple. Erickson supplied five doubles and two triples.

Other key hitters returning for the Roughriders are Michael McChesney and Hopfauf. McChesney finished his first Legion season with a .289 average, 36 runs scored, 30 RBI, seven doubles and two home runs. Hopfauf posted a .270 average with 17 runs scored, 14 RBI and three doubles.

“They are basically coaches on the field,” Hansen said. “That’s what is kind of nice. They do things without me actually telling them. They understand situations much better.”

Andrew Heckaman and Wallner received playing time at the tail end of last season. Wallner was the Dickinson Midgets’ full-time right fielder during the spring. The two newcomers to the Legion season are brothers Kendall Jones and Lucas Jones.

Though the Roughriders have a few newcomers, Hansen said the players have quickly learned the ropes.

“The newer guys can come in and they are up to speed, so I don’t have repeat myself a bunch of times,” Hansen said. “It’s very enjoyable to coach a bunch of kids like that.”